The annual celebration of Guy Fawkes Day in South Africa is often marked by unruly, undignified, destructive and crude behaviour by all those participating in the so-called festivities. The 5 November celebration was characterised by violence and chaos on Tuesday in the Cape Flats, with both young and old engaging in multiple acts of assault and intimidation. Reports from the Voice of the Cape even indicate that a 14 year-old boy from Heinz Park is comatose after being thrown with a brick to the head.
Guy Fawkes celebrations are generally held on November 5 every year by millions of British families remembering Guy Fawkes – who was essentially a terrorist born in York, England.
In the year 1605, along with 13 other men, Fawkes attempted to blow up the British parliament – aiming to kill the Protestant King James I and the rest of his Protestant government. Approximately 36 barrels of gunpowder were gathered under the House of Lords, but the group was unsuccessful in their attempt and the plot was foiled. According to britannica.com fireworks are a major component of most Guy Fawkes Day celebrations and represent the explosives that were never used by the plotters. South Africans presumably celebrate the day as a result of the country’s colonial history rather than for political or sociopolitical reasons, however.
According to Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security at the City of Cape Town, Alderman JP Smith, at least three fires which occurred yesterday can be directly attributed to Guy Fawkes activities.
Smith added, however, that of greater concern nowadays is the proclivity of locals to engage in public acts of violence on 5 November.
He indicated that many complaints surrounding the selling of fireworks, the discharging of fireworks, intimidation, assault, damage to property and fighting were received by the City. Smearing anyone in sight with paint and other substances seems to be characteristic of the day.
“We’re lucky this year that no houses burned down… last year we had three informal structures burned down by fireworks,” said Smith.
Although violent crime and “celebrations” do not seem to have decreased on Guy Fawkes Day, Smith has noted a decrease in the amount of fireworks used…which is quite paradoxical considering the history of the day.
Several groups of youth were running around in different areas, attacking people and acting disorderly.
According to a statement by the City of Cape Town, local officers reported the stoning of vehicles on the corner of Military Road and Prince George Drive in Lavender Hill, where approximately 100 youths gathered.
Smith insisted that he hopes all those guilty of various offences on Guy Fawkes Day – particularly assault – will face criminal charges.
“Throughout the day yesterday, there were numerous reports of marauding youths attacking people and vehicles. The video of the incident in Elsies River, where a man was assaulted by a group of children, is evidence of what plays out year after year in many of our communities. There is absolutely no justification for this macabre celebration and the hurt, pain and anguish it causes to so many people… not to mention the drain on City and police resources to deal with the many complaints received which detract from the many other pressing policing priorities in our city.
I call on community leaders, schools and families to start a conversation about Guy Fawkes and the havoc it wreaks. The Safety and Security Directorate, too, will consider what possible contribution we can make towards changing the status quo.
It is time we start wiping out this misguided tradition which is being perpetuated by a minority, at the expense of the majority,” read a statement issued by Smith.
Effect on animals
Allan Perrins from the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa explained that animals become traumatised and terrified, facing dangerous situations as a result.
Hout Bay was a hotspot described as “crazy” by quite a few residents. Some became so desperate that they ended up laying charges against people letting off fireworks.
Many other Cape Flats neighbourhoods were also extremely problematic.
Perrins acknowledged that the number of calls received by the Animal Welfare Society of South Africa during Guy Fawkes Day on Tuesday were less than prior years but doesn’t feel that the fines issued to offenders are adequate in preventing the reckless discharge of fireworks – considering the amount of trauma caused by these celebrations.
“If an animal is injured, there are additional charges which can be laid. Those charges can result in significantly harsher penalties including financial penalties and even a jail term in extreme instances.”