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A soccer mom in one of Cape Town’s posh suburbs drops off a cardboard box of blankets to a neighbor. Inside the box are several bottles of red wine.

In Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, two men in face masks greet each other on a sunny street. One has surreptitiously sold the other a pack of cigarettes.

“They’ve banned the sale of cigarettes but we’re still able to buy them,” said street vendor Mluleki Mbhele. “We buy cigarettes in the streets in the black market. The officials know about it because they themselves continue to smoke.

Critics describe the prohibitions imposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa as puritanical, hypocritical and unrealistic. Around the world, only Panama and Sri Lanka are reported to be prohibiting the sale of liquor during the pandemic, while India and Thailand temporarily banned it.

South African government officials say the number of admissions to hospital emergency rooms from alcohol-related crimes and vehicle accidents have been reduced significantly. Supporters of the ban on cigarette sales say smoking weakens the respiratory system, which is attacked by the virus.

South Africa has the continent’s highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases with over 24,000. The virus has spread relatively slowly across Africa, whose 54 countries with a population of 1.3 billion have reported a total of over 115,000 cases.

More than 230,000 South Africans have been arrested for breaking the lockdown regulations, including the bans on alcohol and tobacco sales, said national police minister Bheki Cele.


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