The City has done an about-turn on its decision to ban fireworks after an outcry from the Hindu community days before the start of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - The City has done an about-turn on its decision to ban fireworks after an outcry from the Hindu community days before the start of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

Members of the SA Hindu Maha Sabha (Sahms) threatened to drag the City to court because of the ban, but mayco member for safety and security JP Smith issued a statement yesterday saying his initial statement on Friday, in which he said the City was doing away with designated sites for fireworks displays, had been misunderstood.

“While many have welcomed the decision to not have the designated sites, individuals within the Hindu community have expressed their dissatisfaction about the impact this will have on Diwali later this month. The fact is that organised fireworks displays can still be applied for, because the City has not imposed a ban on fireworks - we have simply decided not to have designated City sites this year.”

In addition, Smith said, the City had, in consultation with interested parties, decided to make available the parking lot at Athlone Stadium on Sunday for Diwali celebrations.

Smith said they had had various consultations with the Hindu community about the matter. “The City has engaged with representatives of the Hindu community and arrangements are being put in place to accommodate Diwali celebrations,” he said.

On Friday, the City said the discharging of fireworks was not allowed in terms of the Community Fire Safety By-law, but the City said it had for a number of years made an exception to accommodate this practice for Guy Fawkes, Diwali and New Year’s Eve.

It also said residents who used or detonated fireworks in any building or public thoroughfare were liable to pay a R200 fine. The fine for selling fireworks to anyone under the age of 16 was R300, and that for allowing a child or person under the age of 16 to handle fireworks without adult supervision, R300.

“The illegal detonation of fireworks is a problem each year, even when designated sites are available. One just has to review the many complaints the City’s enforcement agencies deal with, particularly around Guy Fawkes. The City tries to police the issue as best as possible by clamping down on the illegal sale of fireworks, but the only real solution would be to ban fireworks outright,” Smith said.

Fireworks is a key feature when ushering in the new year at the end of Diwali, which is symbolic with bringing light to the darkness.

Before Smith’s about-turn, Sahms president Ashwin Trikamjee had said: “Sahms is astounded by the unilateral decision of the city council to decide on a blanket ban on fireworks. It’s highly insensitive to the Hindu community, which has celebrated this important festival in the RSA since 1860.

"The failure to consult or negotiate or discuss is perceptually racist and an affront to the Hindu Community.  An application is being made by Ms Anu Nepal in the High Court to challenge the decision. The SAHMS  is supporting the application as a second applicant.”   

The first applicant in the matter Anu Nepal who was a senior legal officer at the Human Rights Commissioner said: “Why should I be applying for permits to practice my religion with my family? It's 2019 and not 1976. The City needs to respect all religions and not treat Hindu religious occasions with the same respect it gives to some New Years Eve drunken party.”  

She said it violates the right to practice her religion.

“They created a legitimate expectation in Hindu people in Cape Town but strategically ban it on the eve of Diwali with no consultation with the Hindu representative bodies. As part of our religious festival,” she said.

Smith dismissed critics, “The City hasn’t infringed on the rights of any individual or grouping. It is unfortunate that the communication around the designated sites was misinterpreted and widely reported as a ban on fireworks,” he said.

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Cape Argus