Nearly 2,000 years ago, a six-day fire devastated Rome, leaving half the city’s population homeless and destroying 70% of its buildings. As panic set in, rumours spread that the emperor, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, had played the fiddle while he watched the city burn. 

In SA today the neglect of our electricity infrastructure has led to unprecedented levels of load-shedding. A cholera outbreak is threatening municipal water supplies in five provinces, and has already claimed more than 40 lives. 

Babies born prematurely in one state hospital are placed in cardboard boxes as there are no incubators available — emblematic of the chaos and corruption that prevails throughout our healthcare system. Unemployment continues to rise, with no end in sight. Investor and consumer confidence in the economy is collapsing, in no small part thanks to the government’s foreign policy blunders.

The government is fiddling while big issues burn the country. For instance, our legislators feel now is the right time to introduce new lifestyle regulations such as the Tobacco Products & Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill. Rather than deal with the multitude of real crises that threaten South Africans’ lives and livelihoods, parliament and its health portfolio committee are fine-tuning a law that seeks to ban smoking and vaping in private premises — including our own homes. 

Another analogy is that of shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. But in many ways this is worse. That parliament should choose to focus on such an issue in SA’s current circumstances is like ordering the Titanic’s helmsman to leave his station and go clean the toilets when the iceberg has already been spotted on the horizon.

SA’s public policy agenda should be focused on the big issues that are wrecking our nation, not on nibbling away at consumer choice. As our defence and foreign affairs ministers tank the value of the rand by playing nice with Vladimir Putin, the health minister has resurrected Vladimir Lenin from the dead to write the Tobacco Bill. 

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