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Durban - Durban is being asked to consider banning the use of fireworks in residential areas, a major source of conflict between neighbours.
A lobby group led by animal rights activist Jessica Singh met with city manager S’bu Sithole this week, and warned the issue was so divisive that they feared it could lead to violence.
Sithole said he had “suggested that a review of current by-laws would be necessary. Such a review will also have to consider what other cities are doing and benchmark ourselves against such practices.”
This would be done by the city’s legal department.
Other big cities in the country have strict regulations and prohibit improper use of fireworks.
Unless special council authorisation has been applied for and granted, the City of Joburg grants residents 11 days annually to “light or ignite” fireworks, including Diwali, New Year’s Eve and Guy Fawkes day.
The use of fireworks should be authorised by the council at least 14 days beforehand.
Residents face a fine of R500 if found to be using fireworks on other days and a further R1 000 fine if they light or ignite fireworks in the vicinity of animals, including those in domestic homes.
Except for New Year’s Eve, the only permissible time for igniting fireworks on the mentioned days is from 7-10 pm.
Residents who allow minors under their supervision to “use, light or ignite” fireworks are fined R1 500.
In Cape Town, the municipality usually identifies designated areas across the city where residents can discharge shop-bought fireworks.
Those wanting to hold a public fireworks display must obtain a permit from the police at least two weeks beforehand.
In Kimberley, any person who wants to hold a fireworks display must apply for permission in writing, at least 30 days before such a display is to be held.
In Durban, the campaigners are asking the city to introduce by-laws that would limit the lighting of fireworks to registered pyrotechnic officials, at designated venues and at specific times.
Sithole said he had “taken note that there are different cultural interpretations about the role of fireworks during religious and cultural festivities. The policy review will be a political process led by the mayor and relevant portfolio committees of council and all stakeholders’ views will also be taken into account”.
Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha said that they would “oppose such a ban to the hilt”.
“Their agenda is anti-culture, there has to be reason for such a ban,” he said.
Trikamjee added, however, that talks had already begun with fireworks dealers and importers to find a solution to the issue of fireworks.
Singh, who heads the animal organisation Pawfect Nation, said she objected to people using religion and culture as the “excuse and justification” for lighting fireworks, and said: “There is nowhere in the religious books that state that fireworks have to be used. Religious leaders need to take a stand.”
Sithole was given a copy of the document authored by Derek du Toit, of the Firework Banning Initiative, who is leading the campaign nationally. In the submission, it was noted that in eThekwini there were no by-laws stipulating exceptions to the Explosives Act.
Singh said the issue of fireworks had become worse than just being about animals becoming frightened.
“It has become a human rights issue, as we saw last year when a lady, who was white, was threatened with violence because of the comments she made about fireworks and religion,” said Singh.
She said people had turned the fireworks issue into a racial one, and if the city did not do anything about resolving the conflict, the problem could escalate this year.
“We have submitted to the council all the relevant documents and back-up as to why the laws need to be urgently reviewed, and we want action to be taken before June,” said Singh, adding that this would then allow sufficient time for police officers and metro police to be trained to enforce the bylaws.
Caroline Smith, spokeswoman for the Durban and Coast SPCA said: “The SPCA movement is apolitical and our opposition to fireworks is because we stand firmly against anything which compromises the welfare of animals or causes cruelty. We would welcome a review of the by-laws that would restrict the times and areas for the use of fireworks, be it for religious reasons, or any other celebrations”.
Logie Naidoo, speaker of the eThekwini council, said while he had not heard anything from the city manager yet, if the debate on fireworks were to be reopened, there would be due processes.
Such a submission would have to go through the relevant committees.
Naidoo added the council respected the rights of everyone, and they would need to find a balance in the requests of campaigners, animal rights groups and those who wanted to use fireworks.
Independent on Saturday