Picture with NDZ 'used to suit a certain narrative': Mazzotti
Cigarette trader Adriano Mazzotti has denied allegations that he had corruptly engineered the ban to benefit the illicit cigarette industry.
He also disputed claims that he is friends with cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
"It's a completely untrue story. I have no relationship with minister Dlamini-Zuma. I have met her a couple of times. Both times I met her were informal meetings when other people were there," he said during an interview with eNCA's Checkpoint on Tuesday.
Mazzotti was quizzed on a number of issues, including a now infamous picture of himself with Dlamini-Zuma. The picture has been used to claim that the ongoing cigarette sale ban under lockdown was about more than the government-stated health implications as the country battles with the spread of the coronavirus.
"I asked if I could have a picture with her; [she] is a very well-known person. I have done with a lot of people. So I asked to have a picture with her, and those pictures were obviously used to suit a certain narrative," he said.
Mazzotti denied he assisted Dlamini-Zuma in her election campaign for ANC presidency in 2017.
"In fact, minister Dlamini-Zuma at the time made it very clear to the people around her that she would not accept any form of contribution from our company towards her campaign because she knew we come from the tobacco industry and she historically has been against the tobacco industry."
He said he disagreed with Dlamini-Zuma's stance that the temporary ban on the sale of cigarettes, which began after the lockdown in April, would see smokers quitting the habit.
"Everybody still smokes. It has not stopped people from smoking. What it has forced them to do is buy cigarettes from that market which is ripping the public off - and there is no tax revenue collected on that product either."
He said the ban affected local cigarette manufacturers more than the multinational companies - to the point where it was killing his own business.
"The longer the tobacco ban lasts, the stronger the illicit [trade] and the syndicates that are bringing products across the border ... will become," he said.
"As local manufacturers, we are very affected by the lockdown because we sell 70% or 80% of our product ... in the local market, whereas [for] the multinationals SA represents a tiny part of their global market.
"If there is a lockdown in SA, for example, and a ban on the tobacco products, it does not really affect them [multinationals], but it affects the SA smoker."
During the interview, Mazzotti also described how he got into the cigarette business.
"I started as a hawker in the late 80s selling clothing in town [Johannesburg] on the corner of Bree and West Street. We built up a massive hawker network and then we started putting other essential items though that network."
He said he noticed that hawkers traded more in sweets and cigarettes.
"So we started with sweets and cigarettes at the time. The cigarettes seemed like a lucrative market to be in. We learnt the market and eventually we decided, 10 years ago, to open our factory here - to start manufacturing locally."
Meanwhile, Mazzotti also told eNCA that he was friends with EFF leader Julius Malema and that he gave him money.
"I gave money in my personal capacity, not as a company. I gave money to Julius Malema, who is a friend of mine. I have known him since the days of the [ANC] Youth League. I have been a supporter of the ANC since the 1980s and Julius is a friend of mine."