Fireworks, the Law, and You

Guy Fawkes and fireworks, aren’t outlawed in SA. Certain actions are, though. Know the do’s and don’ts of this pointless celebration.
Jason Snyman
Guy Fawkes celebrations are just a few nights away. It’s time to play South Africa’s favourite guessing game – were those gunshots or fireworks? Guy Fawkes Night, much like Halloween, has no real place in South Africa. We don’t care about some random guy who tried to blow some British King up in the 1600’s. It’s got nothing to do with us. Some of us do, however, enjoy blowing things up – and that’s all the excuse we seem to need. Though many people have a huge problem with it, the Guy Fawkes celebration, like Diwali, is by no means outlawed in South Africa. There are rules and regulations applicable to certain municipal areas, though, which need to be adhered to. Failure to follow these laws could result in harsh fines, or worse – a mob of angry vegans, hippies and church aunties showing up at your door with pitchforks. After all, as hinted upon at the beginning of this article, nobody would notice a stray gunshot ringing out into the lit-up night.
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Fireworks, The Law And You

Many cities and towns have designated areas in which the public may enjoy fireworks, three nights a year. These are for Diwali, Guy Fawkes Night and New Year’s Eve. 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 the streets. This also includes shopping malls, restaurants, liquor stores and clothing retailers. I wish I was there to see it the day these restrictions became necessary. Children under 16 may not buy or set off fireworks. It’s obviously 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. 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 countries. 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. Any dealer selling fireworks must be in possession of a valid licence issued by the chief inspector of the Department of Explosives. Using fireworks to frighten animals is against the law. This, of course, says a lot more about your character than anything else. Fireworks may only be set off between the hours of 7pm and 10pm – barring New Year’s Eve celebrations, of course. It is 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.

Repercussions; And Why Only Morons Enjoy Guy Fawkes

Anybody who fails to comply with these bylaws could face fines or even imprisonment for disturbance. The public may report transgressions to the nearest police station. Though the setting off of fireworks for Guy Fawkes in South Africa is juvenile, unnecessary and just plain dumb – not to mention cruel toward the neighbourhood animals – the SAPS (surely) have better things to do than go around asking people to please calm down with their cherry bombs. This puts the people who do not enjoy or partake in fireworks in a precarious position. Do you go to the police if somebody lets a screamer off in their backyard? Why are we bothering our law enforcement with something so trivial, when they could be out (I’m being optimistic here) solving actual crimes? Why can’t South Africa just let go of Guy Fawkes once and for all. We have the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali. We have New Year’s Eve. These actually mean something to South African people. They have a place here. Guy Fawkes does not. The terrorizing of local wildlife and vegans not included, there are other problems surrounding Guy Fawkes. High increases of particulates produced from fireworks can remain suspended in the air for around 24 hours after their use, causing air pollution. The excessive amount of crackers and fireworks going off can lead to serious health issues, including lung cancer, phlegm and asthma. The increase in burn injuries over these periods are also a problem, with people throwing tom thumbs at one another, lighting the fuse a little too high, etc. To many people, particularly children, these bright, colourful explosions are mesmerizing and mysterious. The anticipation of the bang. The danger. We don’t realize that it’s just the same old thing, year after year.  

Dealing With It

Sure, Guy Fawkes is stupid and meaningless, but nothing will ever stop people from ‘celebrating’ it. Because, what are you even celebrating? But I digress – in the end, it keeps the children in awe and entertained and it’s only one night a year. Some people enjoy the simple things. Pet owners, however, do not. Unless you spot somebody cramming your car’s exhaust with bottle rockets and roman candles, it probably isn’t worth calling the cops over any of it. Simply speak to a veterinarian about sedating your pets, or keep them occupied on the night. Some of the SPCA outlets will also have kennels available for the evening. 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.