Durban - The timing of a new fireworks and animal safety poster campaign - released just days before Diwali - has touched off an explosive reaction in the Hindu community.
The campaign by the SPCA urges people to think about the effects of fireworks on animals. The posters read: “Your box of tricks... is our worst nightmare. Are fireworks necessary?”
But Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the SA Hindu Maha Sabha, said the timing of the warning was an insult to Hindus, for whom Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, was a time of celebration and renewal. It is celebrated on November 13 this year.
“Fireworks are used throughout the year, at sporting events, for example, and no one makes a fuss - not even the SPCA. But when it comes to Diwali, it all starts. It’s a level of annoyance to Hindus,” he said. People were adhering to fireworks by-laws, Trikamjee added.
However, the SPCA’s Durban and Coast spokeswoman, Caroline Smith, was adamant that the fireworks poster campaign was not singling out Diwali, but referred to all celebrations, including Guy Fawkes and New Year’s Eve.
Smith said the posters and fireworks warnings were posted on the SPCA Facebook site and forwarded via e-mail. “Over the past few years, there has been an improvement [in the number of pets reportedly affected by fireworks],” she said. “People are being proactive and buying homeopathic calming remedies for their animals.”
Smith said that on the nights when fireworks were traditionally used, SPCA inspectors were on duty and conducted patrols. The SPCA switchboard was also open from 4pm to 11pm at 031 579 6500; later an emergency number came into play.
The eThekwini municipality’s fireworks policy guidelines classifies fireworks into two groups: display and consumer or recreational fireworks. Display fireworks may be used during special functions, Diwali celebrations at the beachfront, the Hare Krishna festival at Chatsworth and the beachfront, as well as at sporting functions.
Applications for permission to use display fireworks must be made to the chief inspector of explosives in Pretoria and the SAPS explosives unit. The police must then seek the municipality’s recommendations.
Consumer or recreational fireworks are classified for use during cultural, religious and other special days of the year.
“It is this type of fireworks use that requires control from the city’s point of view,” reads the policy guidelines. “The issues that need control are use/abuse and misuse of fireworks, preservation of life and prevention of injury to animals, noise and cultural or other days when fireworks may be used.”
Fireworks may be used on New Year’s Eve from 11.45pm until 12.15am of the new year.
The policy prohibits the setting off of fireworks at any time except for those declared by the municipality as religious, cultural or ceremonial.
In the past few years, police have reported fewer fireworks-related incidents, with more people adhering to the fireworks by-laws.
Metro police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Eugene Msomi, said that each year they tried a different approach to enforcement and there had been a decline in incidents over the past few years. “We feel positive that we are making an impact,” he said. “Each year there are police officers dedicated towards this type of law enforcement and each year we deploy police officers or conduct patrols in areas based on the previous year’s incidents.”
Those who fail to comply with by-laws are fined R400 and repeat offenders are arrested.
“The by-laws are not complicated. We try not to infringe on people’s culture so that we can live in a harmonious society,” said Msomi. “There are concessions for 15 minutes before the start time and 15 minutes after the cut-off time.”
Provincial police spokes-man, Captain Thulani Zwane, said the SAPS would have extra patrols on Diwali, Guy Fawkes and New Year’s Eve.
The metro police 24-hour call centre for complaints is 031 361 000 and the SAPS toll-free number is 10111 or call any local police station.
Robin Lalla, of the Bakerville Ratepayers’ Association, said that although his family celebrated Diwali, they chose not to buy fireworks because of their pets. “We don’t mind the controlled use of fireworks, but I get angry when people start with it weeks before Diwali, Guy Fawkes or New Year’s and continue well after the celebrations,” he said.