Occasions involving the use of fireworks are not free-for-alls. There are laws that regulate its use - and for very good reason. File picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
WHEN I mentioned to a colleague that I intended devoting my column this week to the incendiary issue of Diwali fireworks, he shook his head in bewilderment.

“Don’t go there,” he warned. “Nobody wins that argument. You’re just going to burn your fingers, in more ways than one.”

But you know the old story - the more you tell kids not to play with matches, they will.

Isn’t it astonishing that a nation that reconciled their differences after decades of conflict under apartheid cannot seem to find common ground over a simple thing like firecrackers?

It happens without fail, year in and year out around September and October, that people seem to go crackers over the issue.

They hurl slurs, threats and expletives at one another over radio, newspapers and social media.

Just stop and listen to the despicable tone and language of some of the exchanges in recent times.

“Diwali is supposed to be the festival of light, not of noise, explosions and animal abuse. Don’t you have any feelings for my poor pets?”

“Yes, I do, but what about my religious rights? You are just racially and culturally intolerant.”

“Wish you would go back to India.”

“I’ll take you racists to the Human Rights Commission and charge you with hate speech.”

The caustic and often racially-divisive exchanges turn neighbour against neighbour and community against community, giving rise to violent threats, court cases and a dangerous rise in tension.

It is all worth it? What is at issue here are the tolerance thresholds of people towards those outside their own faith, cultural norms and ethnicity. What needs to be respected is that occasions involving the use of fireworks are not free-for-alls. There are laws that regulate its use - and for very good reason.

There are also hopeful signs of changing attitudes towards fireworks here and in India. Organisations representing the Hindu community locally have welcomed moves in India to encourage the use of more eco-friendly fireworks during Diwali.

I also see the national watchdog on religious practices in South Africa has announced plans to visit communities to resolve the perennial conflict.

Let’s get one thing straight - we are not by any means a homogeneous society. We’re as diverse as the species that inhabit our oceans but the fish don’t seem to have any problems. Our diversity is not a hindrance; it’s our strength.

Intercultural and religious tolerance is stifled by ignorance but will benefit immensely from the sharing of knowledge and experiences.

To promote tolerance in our society, wouldn’t it be a great idea for Hindu families to invite a few non-Hindu neighbours to their homes over Diwali?

What about Christian families asking their Muslim neighbours to join them for their annual festivities and Muslim families reciprocating at Eid?

Isn’t it time there were more representative gatherings at Zulu cultural events like the Khekhekhe First Fruits Festival in February, the Royal Reed Dance in September and the Shembe Gathering at Judea in October?

Oh, by the way, I don’t belong to any particular faith. I belong to all of them.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.