Kids eat weeds as criminals dine out on prohibited billions JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's children are starving and livelihoods are being destroyed as government ignores science and continues a tobacco products sale ban that is turning criminals into billionaires, Tax Justice SA (TJSA) said on Sunday. Hunger levels had “exploded” during the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown in South Africa, according to weekend news reports. Almost half of households had run out of money for food and some children were having to survive on “wild plants”, TJSA founder Yusuf Abramjee said in a statement. “Our ministers’ obsession with stopping people smoking tobacco is forcing poor children to eat weeds,” he said. “In 16 weeks of the cigarette ban, more than R4 billion in sin taxes have been lost. That money could have paid for 26 million food parcels. But instead it is enriching criminals in illicit trade." One of government’s leading scientists had admitted on Friday that there was no proven link between smoking and Covid-19. On Day 115 of the ban, smokers were still smoking – they just had to buy in the illegal market, where gangsters were making an average R100 million every day, Abramjee said. “The government’s first duty should be to ensure children have food to eat. But our ministers seem more intent on pursuing a failed social experiment. Kids are eating weeds while criminals are dining out on the fruits of prohibition." Professor Lucille Blumberg, deputy director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), said in a conversation broadcast online by the NICD on Friday that "there is no direct and very good information or good studies to link smoking with severe Covid-19”. Meanwhile, other senior members on the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on Covid-19 accused government of “gross inconsistencies and even hypocrisy” that had “broken the social contract” to prevent the spread of the virus, Abramjee said. “Ministers have caved in to the taxi industry and sent millions of South Africans to work in mobile coffins. They have capitulated yet again to SAA, where they will pour away even more billions of taxpayers’ money. “Yet, without sound medical reason, they have imposed the only Covid-related tobacco ban in the world, which robs the fiscus of vital taxes and threatens the jobs of 300,000 honest, hard-working citizens. “It’s the politics of a playground where bullies reign, favouritism outweighs fairness, and the humble go hungry. The lesson being taught to decent South Africans is that crime pays. It’s a deadly education and one that threatens the survival of our most vulnerable,” Abramjee said.