The family of a young Parkwood man who died following an attack on Guy Fawkes Day, has called for the banning of the day and all activities relating to it.
The day is not a South African public holiday but local authorities designate sites for use to ensure that fireworks are let off in a controlled environment with emergency response staff on standby to limit potential damage.
Ralton Swartz, 26, was struck with a brick to the head on Sunday November 5 and died as a result of his injury three days later, on Wednesday November 8. A 33-year-old from Parkwood was arrested for the attack.
According to his family, Mr Swartz was with a group of friends who were smearing people with paint – an unwelcome tradition during which people, particularly groups of youngsters, attack each other and innocent bystanders with eggs, shoe polish and paint on Guy Fawkes Day.
Sometimes these groups become violent and smear people with paint or shoe polish containing dangerous objects such as blades, and hit each other with socks filled with rocks or faeces. Mr Swartz’s girlfriend of seven years, Mishka Hector, however, said her partner had no intention of being violent and playfully smeared a man known to the family.
“Ralton was just having fun with his friends and from what I understand Ralton got a little paint on the man’s face when he wanted to smear him. The man then picked up a brick and threw Ralton against the head,” she said.
“Someone called me to say Ralton was injured and I went to where the incident happened. There was a huge gash in his head and there was blood everywhere.
“He told me he felt dizzy and I called the ambulance but they took too long to come and one of my friends drove him to Retreat Community Health Centre (CHC) for treatment,” said Ms Hector. Mr Swartz was stitched up and sent home with painkillers. The days following the attack, Mr Swartz, however, became sicker and was in excruciating pain.
Ms Hector said Mr Swartz’s condition became worse and he was admitted to Victoria Hospital in Wynberg but died a day later.
Mr Swartz’s grandmother, Mary Akim, said he was a quiet person who didn’t deserve to die the way he did. “He died in so much pain over something so unnecessary. Smearing and fireworks and all the bad things relating to Guy Fawkes Day should be put to a stop because Ralton has lost his life over something so minor,” said Ms Akim.
She urged youngsters not to get involved in Guy Fawkes activities. “I’m hoping Ralton’s death is not in vain. I hope other youngsters take caution from this and not smear each other and hurt each other because look how this has turned out,” said Ms Akim.
Ward 66 councillor William Akim, who is Mr Swartz’s uncle, said Guy Fawkes should not be celebrated in South Africa. “Why do South African’s celebrate Guy Fawkes. It has nothing to do with us. It is a day celebrated by the British. In Parkwood in particular things have become so bad. Every year on Guy Fawkes Day innocent people get hurt when they are smeared, hit with socks filled with rocks and one year a boy died when he ran into a car because he was running from a group of children who wanted to smear him.
“Dozens of people and animals also get injured from fireworks,” said Mr Akim.
Guy Fawkes Day is an annual commemoration observed in Britain. It marks the anniversary of the discovery of a plot organised by Catholic conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London; and months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot’s failure.
While the day is not a South African public holiday, local authorities designate sites for use to ensure that fireworks are let off in a controlled environment with emergency response staff on standby to limit potential damage.
“My nephew died because of swelling on his brain which means he had a concussion and the doctor also said he contracted meningitis. This could have been avoided if he were treated properly at Retreat CHC. It could have also been avoided if people didn’t celebrate a day that has no roots in SA with criminal elements like violence,” said Mr Akim.
Grassy Park police spokesperson, Warrant Officer Wynita Kleinsmith, confirmed that a case of murder is being investigated. “It is alleged the deceased (Mr Swartz) was smearing people. A 33-year old man who did not want him to be smeared, picked up a brick and threw the deceased. He was admitted to hospital and passed away due to his head injuries” said Warrant Officer Kleinsmith.
The accused made his first appearance in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court on a charge of murder on Monday November 13.
Grassy Park police acting station commander, Lieutenant Colonel Christiaan Esau, condemned the violence. “These acts of those that use Guy Fawks to hurt innocent people just for the fun of it must come to a stop. I urge the community to discourage people to burst fireworks in residential areas as this always results in chaos,” he said.
Lieutenant Colonel Esau said on Guy Fawkes the station received numerous complaints and officers were called out several times throughout the day.
JP Smith, Mayco member for safety and security; and social services, said Guy Fawkes is a very challenging day for the City’s enforcement agencies. “The reality is that we are doing the best we can with what we have in order to police a tradition that has a keen following among residents,” he said.
“The behaviour of marauding gangs attacking innocent people is downright criminal. The City of Cape Town is already doing as much as any local authority can to minimise the use of fireworks. However, the upcoming review of the by-law relating to streets, public places and prevention of noise nuisances in the next year offers an opportunity to take a fresh legal and constitutional look at the City’s powers in this regard. Furthermore, we urge civil society to petition national government for stronger legislation relating to the sale and use of fireworks by the general public,”said Mr Smith.
Monique Johnstone, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Health’s southern sub-structures, said Mr Swartz’s case is being investigated. “We offer our sincere condolences to the family of Ralton Swartz. The department will investigate the case and make contact with the family after the investigation has been concluded. We would need to establish if an autopsy was conducted to establish the cause of the patient’s death,” said Ms Johnstone.