Spotlight on Guy Fawkes

Sub-council 18 chairperson Shanen Rossouw.

Every year on November 5 the streets on the Cape Flats descend into chaos as residents set off fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day.
People are also known to attack each other with eggs, shoe polish and paint, sometimes containing dangerous blades, and hitting each other with socks filled with rocks.

This year Sub-council 18 called a meeting with principals, police, traffic services and the City of Cape Town’s law enforcement agencies to discuss a contingency plan for the weeks leading up to and on Guy Fawkes Day.
Sub-council 18 chairperson Shanen Rossouw said every year residents, especially school children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups were targeted by youngsters and gangsters who use the day to cause havoc.

Ms Rossouw said although the day is on a Sunday this year, contingency plans are still important. “Thankfully the day falls on a Sunday this year but we cannot take the risk to not have any plans in place because people, especially school going children, will probably be attacked on Friday November 3,” said Ms Rossouw.

At the meeting, which was held on Friday October 20, principal inspector Hendrik de Wee from the traffic services department said law enforcement agencies have plans in place to manage the events that take place on the day.

“The City has allocated spots where fireworks can be discharged and we have different legislation with regards to the selling and discharging of fireworks and the noise it generates that is set out in by-laws. That is all we can do, manage it to the best of our ability,” said Mr De Wee.

Graham Ritchie, principal of Zeekoevlei Primary School in Lotus River, said more should be done by the City to have the day and fireworks banned. “The day is a tradition that has nothing to do with South Africa so I really don’t understand why our people are celebrating it,” he said.

Guy Fawkes Day is an annual commemoration observed in Britain. It marks the anniversary of the discovery of a plot organised by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London in 1605.

Mr Richie raised the issue that has been an ongoing debate in Cape Town, many people calling for the day and fireworks to be banned because of the effects it has on animals, the fire and injury risks when discharging fireworks and the noise made by the fireworks.

JP Smith, Mayco member for safety and security; and social services, said every year the City is inundated with complaints about why fireworks are allowed in the first place. He said the City’s Community Fire Safety By-law already does the maximum that a local authority can do in terms of the law and that is to ban the use of fireworks in public places but said only national government has the legislative competency to ban the import, production and sale of fireworks or restrict usage by age.

“The City designates sites for use on traditional days to ensure that fireworks are let off in a controlled environment with emergency response staff on standby, thus limiting any potential damage. Unfortunately, we don’t have the authority to do more than that,” said Mr Smith.

Trade and Industry Department spokesperson Sidwell Medupe said even though the provincial government had asked for the use and sale of fireworks to be further restricted, it was unlikely the importation of fireworks could be banned because it is not illegal.

Mr Smith 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.

Mr Smith added that it is a concern that Guy Fawkes is on a Sunday this year. “There could potentially be an increase in the number of complaints from the public about fireworks in their neighbourhoods, terrorised pets and of course the blatant assault of innocent people by marauding gangs who derive great pleasure from targeting their victims with paint, eggs and even faeces,” he said.

Mr Smith said the City will have a deployment plan for Guy Fawkes of both their enforcement agencies as well as emergency and rescue services.

He implored people to be sensible about their use of fireworks and to respect the rights of others who do not share their enthusiasm for the tradition.

Penalties for selling and detonating fireworks in public in terms of Section 30 of the Explosives Act is a R200 fine for use or detonation of any fireworks in any building and public thoroughfare. It’s a R300 fine for selling fireworks to a child under the age of 16 and R300 for allowing a child under the age of 16 to handle fireworks without adult supervision.

Grassy Park acting station commander Lieutenant Colonel Christian Esau said they also have plans in place. “We partner with the CPF, neighbourhood watches and security structures in the area. We also go out to schools and shops to warn people not to sell fireworks,”said Lieutenant Colonel Esau.

He said patrol vehicles, crime prevention, sector managers and the normal functional officers are deployed to assist on Guy Fawkes Day with the load of complaints from the community.

“We urge parents to ensure that their children do not get involved in these activities to ensure their own safety and not to be prosecuted if found that they are involved in criminal activities. In general we ask the community to be vigilant and structures in the community to educate on the dangers of fireworks and the effect it has on both people and animals,” he said. To report the illegal sale or use of fireworks, contact the City’s Public Emergency Call Centre on 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cellphone or to the South African Police Service on 10111. General emergencies can be directed via the City’s Public Emergency Call Centre.