The tobacco industry is one of South Africa's oldest and best established agricultural industries. It is a highly specialised industry with specialist tobacco farmers, skilled workers, specialised equipment and infrastructure with specialised processing and manufacturing processes.

In 1997 the industry employed 37919 people on farms. This is a revision of our previously published 1997 figures. The upward revision is due to the fact that the previous figures were mid season figures. We are predicting that employment figures on farms for the whole 1998 season will be 46 222. There are at least 150 000 dependents of farm workers.

It is very important to note that the tobacco industry does not operate in isolation. It has forward and backward linkages into virtually the entire economy. To name a few: suppliers of inputs (fuel, fertilizer, chemicals, packaging, transport, machinery, tractors, implements, equipment etc), sporting bodies, the media, 460 wholesalers, 65 000 formal retailers and 35 000 informal retailers, and the list goes on and on.

In South Africa small farmer development is high on the agenda. Tobacco production is ideally suited for small farmer development. It requires little land, not to much water, it is low in volume and high in value thus easy to transport and it is non perishable. The industry has on its own initiative, embarked either independently or in partnership with government, on several projects country wide to develop small tobacco farmers, namely:
Hoxani Irrigation Scheme (Mpumalanga)
Nkomazi Irrigation Project (Mpumalanga)
Verena Project (Mpumalanga)
Balfour Project (Eastern Cape)
New Forest Project, Mahla Area (Busbuckridge).

In Tanzania 60 000 small farmers are each making a living from less than 1 hectare of tobacco.

It is worth mentioning the positive attitude that South African tobacco farmers and the industry as a whole have towards this country. It is a well known fact that the industry contributed R3,6 billion in 1997 towards government income. It is not so well known that this figure excludes income tax from farming operations, manufacturers and all employees in the industry. It is an insult and it is simply not true that the tobacco farm economy is ailing - that's what Minister Zuma said in the NCOP a few weeks ago. On the contrary, the tobacco industry is prospering and the tobacco farmers are producing very high quality leaf and they are world competitive.

This means that South Africa is benefiting from the economic dynamo of the tobacco industry. It is very important to note that although there was a time when millions of rands of tax payers money was ploughed into agriculture in the form of government aid or subsidies, the tobacco farmers never received any aid whatsoever from government. We just continued being positive, employing people, paying income tax, spending on capital infrastructure, taking new farmers by the hand, and contributing in building a better South Africa for all. We are producing a legal product for which there has been and will always be a demand, we have never threatened to leave this country, all we want is a fair chance.

South Africa is the leading country in Southern Africa. Tobacco is a major industry in all of Southern Africa. It provides jobs to 1 million people with at least 5 million dependants. In Zimbabwe and Malawi it earns 30% and 70% of foreign exchange respectively. Southern Africa as a region is the 3rd largest tobacco exporting region in the world. SADC countries export 10 000 tons of tobacco to South Africa.

What I regard as very noteworthy is the attitude of the politicians in the SADC countries towards the tobacco industry. Because they realise and experience the worth and the contribution of the tobacco industry toward their respective economies, the governments protect and nurture the industry in their countries. In South Africa, the so called leader in SADC, we are busy with the most stringent tobacco legislation in the world, regardless of the effect it will have on our economy and the rest of SADC.

It boggles the mind that such a draconian and potentially devastating bill could be rushed through the legislative process without consulting the tobacco farmers, tobacco workers and the whole industry. Transparency and consultation were assurances given to the people of South Africa by this government. We state it as a fact that the government has completely ignored its professed transparent and consultative policy. The minister never consulted with or entered into discussions with tobacco farmers, manufacturers or the workers. We challenge and call upon the Minister to prove to the people of South Africa that she did consult as she claimed she had done. We can prove to more than 150 000 dependants that this bill was written and handled in a one sided manner.

Why was a controversial and important bill like this brought into the political arena to gain political points. This bill should be debated on its merit and not on emotional and political grounds. Despite approval in the NCOP the majority of provinces had problems not only with consultation, but also the content of the Bill itself. These provinces realised that this bill will not be good for South Africa. In the provinces at least they knew what's going on at grass roots level, hence their reaction to the bill.

Why did certain provinces change their mandates before their representatives walked into the NCOP on 7 October 1998 where suddenly 7 out of 9 provinces unconditionally supported the bill. The answer is that the Minister realised the majority of provinces were having difficulty in accepting the bill, and subsequently enforced party discipline on them to change their mandates.

Why did the Minister, when she made comment after the bill had been passed in the NCOP, firstly thank the ANC provinces for supporting the bill and say that the ANC once again showed that they have the interests of South Africa at heart. The debate in the NCOP had nothing to do with the ANC, but it had everything to do with the provinces. The answer is that this bill could not stand its ground in the majority of the provinces, therefore party politics had to be enforced to vote it through by numbers.

It might sound ironic, but it is a fact that the tobacco industry is more than willing to support reasonable tobacco control measures. Once again, this illustrates the positive attitude of the industry. All we want is the opportunity to sit down with government and other stakeholders and develop reasonable, rational and sustainable tobacco control legislation.

I think that you will agree that this is a very reasonable request in a democratic society, by doing this we will have a bill that is developed by South African stakeholders for South Africa and for which everybody can claim ownership.

There is absolutely no need in South Africa for a half baked, one sided and unconstitutional bill to be rushed through parliament. If we take into consideration the reaction of the public to this bill, it is very clear that more time is needed, even a green or white paper would not have been inappropriate.

Many mistakes have been made regarding this bill up to now. It is in your hands to do the right thing for South Africa, let us start working on a bill that can work for South Africa. In a country where crime is the order of the day and the economy is ailing, this tobacco bill, as it currently stands is an exercise in economic folly.