South Africa’s Tobacco Industry Under Siege: The Call for Action Against Illicit Trade

The South African Tobacco Transformation Alliance (Satta) has sounded the alarm on the burgeoning tobacco mafia, urging immediate action to safeguard the nation’s tobacco industry and its stakeholders.

South Africa’s tobacco sector is facing an unprecedented crisis. The illicit cigarette trade, which accounts for an estimated 60%-70% of the market, is inflicting severe damage on the economy and the livelihoods of those within the industry. From farmers to factory workers, the entire value chain is experiencing the detrimental effects of this illegal activity.

The University of Cape Town’s research on the economics of excisable products has revealed alarming figures, estimating a loss of R119 billion in excise and VAT revenue over two decades due to illicit cigarette networks. This staggering figure underscores the urgent need for intervention.

The Battle Against the Tobacco Mafia

Satta spokesperson Zachariah Motsumi has called for unity and heightened enforcement to combat the threats posed by the illicit tobacco industry. The alliance’s plea for action has resonated with Edward Kieswetter, the commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (Sars), who has acknowledged the gravity of the situation and committed additional resources to tackle these complex crimes.

The impact of the illicit trade is far-reaching, with cigarette producers like Batsa having to retrench workers and about 500 jobs currently at risk in third-party logistics companies that transport their products. The situation is dire for the 10 remaining black tobacco farmers, down from 125, and the less than 155 commercial tobacco farmers, a 21% decrease since 2019.

A United Front for the Future

The fight against the tobacco mafia is not just about protecting an industry; it’s about preserving the economic stability and public health of the nation. Satta’s call to arms has galvanized communities and law enforcement agencies alike, fostering a collective determination to reclaim the industry from the clutches of organized crime.

As the sun sets on another day in South Africa, the battle against illicit tobacco rages on. But with Satta leading the charge and a united front against the forces of darkness, there is hope that a brighter future lies ahead for the tobacco industry and the nation as a whole.

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