In an effort to prevent harmful incidents during Guy Fawkes Day, local authorities went on an awareness drive with the focus on schoolchildren last week.
“Last year we experienced incidents where pupils and pets were injured and property was destroyed. We are doing this as an awareness to prevent a repeat of what happened last year,” said Kensington police spokesperson, Sergeant Angeline Grill.
Grill was addressing learners of Kenmere Primary School on Wednesday 31 October.
She said harmful behaviour during Guy Fawkes Day in previous years included pupils carrying rotten tomatoes or eggs as well as shoe polish in their bags and smearing these on others. In some cases, pupils carried dangerous weapons such as blades and knives, Grill revealed.
“This year we are taking a zero tolerance approach – we will be searching our pupils.”
Grill stressed that firecrackers are dangerous and that people living in Factreton, where gang shootings are a common occurrence, get affected emotionally.
The anti-fireworks awareness programme, which took place on Halloween and a few days before Guy Fawkes Day on Monday 5 November, was supported by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA and Community Keepers.
The latter is an organisation based in schools, providing various support services in partnership with learners, educators and parents or guardians. Community Keepers is different from most community initiatives in that its services are delivered by qualified professionals, including counsellors, psychologists and social workers.
Since being piloted in 2009 at one Stellenbosch school, the programme has been rolled out to more schools and communities.
Said Grill: “We work closely together because [Community Keepers] identify issues the learners are experiencing and we come together and do awareness programmes.”
Justine McEvoy, Community Keepers’ office manager at Kenmere, said: “Sometimes we take it for granted that the learners know about the dangers of fireworks. It is important to refresh their minds about the dangers and consequences.”
Grade 7 teacher, Deborah Woudberg, said it was important to inform the learners about the impact fireworks have on animals, and urge them to continue to use designated areas while being mindful of pets. “The animals’ safety is definitely a concern,” said Woudberg.
SPCA education officer, Junior Ngculu, spoke about the “tormenting” effect of fireworks on animals. “We advise people against the use of fireworks as they place the lives of animals in danger.”
Ngculu explained that animals get into dangerous situations while running away from the loud noises.
Grill used the opportunity to inform Grade 7 learners about the dangers of substance abuse, gangsterism and violence, as per the principal’s request. There had apparently been behavioural problems among the learners. She told the learners they would be arrested if caught with dangerous weapons, drugs and other prohibited items and if involved in inappropriate behaviour. Grill also spoke to the learners about the dangers of social media. “Be careful on social media – it can be traced back to you. You are leaving a cyber-footprint there. Just last year we had an attempted suicide at one of our schools – a learner was being bullied and could no longer take the pressure because of social media,” said Grill.