Not one fine issued over festive season, writes Gareth Wilson
Animal activists have sharply criticised the lack of policing on fireworks in Nelson Mandela Bay after it emerged that not a single person was fined for illegal use of fireworks over the festive season.
While incidents of cruelty to animals and runaway pets skyrocket from October onwards, police and authorities have not issued a single fireworks-related fine or conducted inspections at shops selling fireworks.
According to shelter workers, an estimated 250 animals – mostly dogs – were rescued, while about 100 more were injured while trying to escape the fireworks over the festive season. Some of the injured animals had to be put down.
One dog – an injured husky with broken legs – had to put down on New Year’s Day, while several more were found dead after being hit by passing cars, presumably trying to escape the loud bangs.
The lack of action has led to the animal rescue community lashing out at authorities, who fail to act and turn a blind eye to animals being injured or killed each year.
The exact number of affected animals is unknown as there is no central point for data to be collated.
A bylaw states that offenders can be issued a court appearance summons or be fined R2 000 if they fail to set fireworks off in specific demarcated areas.
Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said that the Port Elizabeth explosives unit had not arrested or fined anyone during the entire festive season for any firework-related offence.
Municipality law enforcement confirmed that they had also not issued a single fine or summons.
Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL) volunteer Karien van Schalkwyk said field workers had, over the years, witnessed dogs being impaled while trying to scale fences and cats entangled in barbed wire – all trying to frantically escape the noise.
A frustrated Van Schalkwyk said that each year, angry animal lovers consulted the municipality about policing of fireworks, but their appeals fell on deaf ears.
“Every year the municipality complies partly with the bylaws in that it does designate areas and widely publicise these so that the public knows exactly where and when they may use fireworks.
“However, every year thousands of people ignore these designated areas because they know that there are absolutely no consequences if they do so.
“Currently, there are simply no consequences and transgressors know this and therefore the problem won’t go away. It will only get worse,” she said.
Van Schalkwyk said both the police and the municipality simply turned a blind eye.
“They have the power to issue fines for offences such as throwing crackers in non-designated residential areas. They do have the right to confiscate fireworks from people who do not have permits to sell, but they don’t,” she said .
“[The] municipality must be held accountable and Metro Police and SAPS must explain why their officers did not act against a single offender.”
Van Schalkwyk said when police were confronted about the issue, their standard response was “lack of manpower”.
“This is a ridiculous excuse. They may as well say that they, the SAPS, simply do not have enough manpower to address drunk drivers and therefore they won’t even attempt to pull one drunk driver off the road because the problem is just too prevalent,” she said.
AACL inspector Beverley Rademeyer said the fireworks issue had been a problem for years and was not getting better.
“October is the month that spaza shops start stacking the firework stock. The suppliers of fireworks do not care if these shops have permits or not and that is a great concern.
“We as an organisation know that the banning of fireworks is not something that is going to change overnight, or in the near future.”
Animal Welfare Society manager Hannes Stander said he had noticed an increase in strays and injured animals from about November through to January.
“Over the years there have been several cases of dogs jumping through windows and getting tangled in fences to escape the bangs.
“I was in Summerstrand over New Year’s and it was like a war zone – bangs and explosions everywhere.” Stander said they had fielded calls about fireworks going off randomly.
“For some reason the people call the police and the police refer them to us. We have no jurisdiction over illegal discharge of fireworks – it is a criminal offence.
“I think the police feel they have other issues to deal with rather than fireworks that could injure an animal.”
Asked why they had failed to issue a single fine to those illegally discharging fireworks, municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said they had only received one complaint about fireworks being discharged in an area not demarcated, which was from the Colchester area.
“Our executive director advocate Keith Meyer personally went [there] to address the matter. On New Year’s Eve, eight security officers were deployed at Colchester and there were no fireworks set off,” Kupido said.
Last year, the municipality said it was revising the bylaws on discharging fireworks in the hope that it would curb injury to people and animals and damage to property.
Asked when this would be done, Kupido said: “[The] municipality appointed a service provider to produce a legal opinion, followed by the tabling of the draft fireworks bylaw in council towards the end of 2017.
“Our legal services department is currently studying the draft legislation. As soon as council approves the public participation process, the community will be informed.”