With New Year's Eve just around the corner, it’s almost time to play South Africa’s favourite guessing game:
'Were those gunshots or fireworks?'
Celebration-via-explosives is by no means outlawed in South Africa, and fireworks are commonly used over New Year's Eve, Diwali and, still, for some bizarre reason, Guy Fawkes Night.
There are strict rules and regulations applicable to certain municipal areas, though, which need to be adhered to during such celebrations, and failure to follow these laws could result in harsh fines, or worse:
A mob of angry pet-owners showing up at your front door.
After all, as hinted upon at the beginning of this article, nobody would notice a stray gunshot ringing out into the lit-up night.
Many cities and towns have designated areas in which the public may enjoy fireworks on three nights a year. These are the aforementioned New Year’s Eve, Diwali, and the completely pointless Guy Fawkes.
The use of fireworks in South Africa is regulated by bylaws under the Explosives Act, 1956. It states that fireworks may not be set off in any public place, for example, in parks, on the pavement or in the streets. This also includes shopping malls, restaurants, liquor stores and clothing retailers.
Children under 16 may not buy or set off any fireworks (because sometimes it's better to let the adults, who have been drinking all day and who can’t even be trusted with a glow stick, to light them instead).
Furthermore, fireworks may not be sold by street vendors, hawkers or at any informal open-air facilities (so, in other words, you’re not allowed to have the good stuff brought in under the cover of night from nefarious sources). Any dealer selling fireworks must be in possession of a valid licence issued by the chief inspector of the Department of Explosives.
No fireworks should be set off, detonated or exploded within 200 metres of any hospital, clinic, petrol station, old-age home, nursing home, or animal welfare organisation or institution.
Using fireworks to frighten animals is against the law, which would, of course, say a lot more about one's character than anything else. It is also unlawful for any person to point or direct a firework at any other person, animal, building or motor vehicle, where such firework is in the process of exploding or detonating.
Fireworks may only be set off between the hours of 7pm and 10pm – barring New Year’s Eve celebrations, of course.
Anybody who fails to comply with these bylaws could face fines or even imprisonment for disturbance.
Though the SAPS, in theory, have far more serious crimes to prevent, the public may report transgressions to the nearest police station. Unless somebody is truly being over-enthusiastic with their celebrations, or is spotted cramming a car’s exhaust with bottle rockets and roman candles, it probably isn’t worth calling the police over.
In the end, fireworks keep the children in awe and entertained - bright, colourful explosions both mesmerizing and mysterious - and it only happens a few nights per year.
Some people enjoy the simple things.
Pet-owners, understandably against fireworks, are advised to speak to a veterinarian about sedating their pets, or to keep them occupied on the night. Some of the SPCA outlets also have kennels available.
Dogs and cats often try to escape to a place of solitude and safety, leading them to jump walls and make a run for it. Disorientated and terrified, they may wander too far from home or end up run down in the middle of the road. So, above all – keep them safe and indoors.
It's not ideal, but the annual celebrations are unlikely to end any time soon.
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