As South Africa’s democratic dispensation dips closer to its third decade, there appears to be a growing, well-orchestrated, oppressive, neo-colonial, pro-conservative, anti-transformation, West -inspired and -funded agenda gathering momentum to silence and side-line the Diwali celebrations in South Africa. Many oppressed people volunteer to carry out the oppressor’s orders without being asked because of the domineering influence of coloniality or mental colonisation.
At the outset, it should be understood that there is no Christmas without Christmas trees and crackers, without gift bags and wrapping, turkey and roast. No Eid without garments and headgear, without feasts consisting of flesh. And no Easter without chocolate and bunnies wrapped in (decorated) foil, without hot cross buns in tin trays. In the same way, there is no Diwali without lights and sounds, feasts, and festivities. These take several and varied shapes and forms among the individual sanatani (read Hindu affiliate), depending on their philosophy, practices, and school of thought as it relates to Sanatana Dharma (read Hinduism).
The growing movement calling for a “green Diwali” – a Diwali in the absence of fireworks and flesh – is rejected in the strongest of terms. Hindus will not be told by others how to celebrate Diwali; to do this is to offend their ability to practice their way of life.
Diwali foods: In the majority of Hindu homes, the lights and sounds of Diwali include the lighting of clay lamps and fireworks. Festivities, including specific attire, special prayer, and worship, song, and dance, are matched by feasts, special treats, and meals. In some Hindu homes, these food items are without flesh – or they are vegetarian, vegan, and the like – and in others, these contain flesh. The lodestar guiding the ingredients and contents of eatables in Hinduism is without any specific or direct scriptural prescription or injunction imposing what should be included or eaten. Food ingredients, foods consumed, and the manner of fasting are dependent solely on the Hindu school of thought, practice, or philosophy.
‘Green Diwali’: Ironically, Diwali’s lights have always been “green.” This dates back to time immemorial and should not be misconstrued as appropriating today’s climate change cult. During Diwali, the lamps lit include clay lamps, which can be filled with ghee (vegetable or butter), sunflower, castor, thill, or other naturally derived oils, and a wick that is made of cotton wool or a similar natural material. In the case of lighting candles for Diwali, candles are made of wax and also of a wick. For Diwali, or any Hindu festival for that matter, every item and utensil used in the prayer and worship is environmentally friendly, derived from nature, natural, organic, recyclable, or reusable. Thus, Hinduism has always been ‘green.’ This authentic, original, and genuine notion of ‘green Hinduism’ stems back to its origin as the oldest religion in the world. It is not a new knee-jerk reaction bowing to the current climate cult. Diwali is not absent from sound or celebrated in solitude. Sounds of music and song, laughter and happiness, colour, chatter, and chimes, of fellowship, friendship, and fireworks fill the Diwali atmosphere.
Diwali sounds: As fireworks are set off for certain big soccer matches, at the opening and closing ceremonies of certain major sports events and the Olympics, for New Year’s Eve, and so on, so fireworks are set off for the annual celebration of Diwali, in line with bylaws and state regulations. The focus of the celebrations of tradition and culture, under the South African Constitution, must be the meeting point of the rivers of consciousness, freedom, and diversity. Religious festivals and other celebrations regularly feature the use of fireworks. They are commonly employed to mark important occasions all throughout the world. The display of fireworks, which incorporates both light and sound elements, has evolved over time into an indispensable, integral, and inseparable component of Diwali festivities around the world. There is no requirement for any religious precept or scriptural sanction for the use of fireworks during Diwali. Hinduism permits freedom of expression when it comes to thinking about and connecting with the Divine. Hindus have a constitutional right to use fireworks during Diwali because they have such great religious and cultural significance and are ingrained in the celebrations that define Diwali. The use of fireworks is inextricably interwoven into Diwali celebrations. There are no fireworks without Diwali. There is no Diwali without fireworks. Fireworks are synonymous with Diwali celebrations. Therefore, the use of fireworks during Diwali is central and cardinal for Diwali celebrants. “Obligatory and voluntary practices qualify for protection under the South African Constitution.” The Constitution puts forward that: “Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community, to enjoy their culture and practice their religion.” The Constitutional Court is convinced that: “The display of religion and culture in public is not a ‘parade of horribles’ but a pageant of diversity which will enrich our country.” Is it these larger-than-life fireworks that go on to enrage a minority in South Africa? Does the grandeur of fireworks used by Hindus during Diwali, lighting up the entire sky for all to see and hear, pose a threat to destabilising the institution of paleness, which light-toned names come up year after year spewing hate speech synonymous with some of their kind?
Diwali hate: In 2020 alone, the following surnames allegedly posted religious and/or racist rants on Facebook against Hindus for celebrating Diwali with fireworks:
- K-L Bate, “To whoever is blowing off fireworks…I truly pray one lights up your face and ass.”
- C Calderwood, “So fed up with F@#king inconsiderate people… it’s the festival of light not fireworks.”
- E-M Nienaber, “It’s the freaking fireworks, I feel like sticking them up their asses really…”
- K Buckley, “Inconsiderate bastards!”
- M Carey, “These idiots have no respect for themselves…”
- T-L A’Bear, “Hearts of stone…”
- F Robinson, “…piece of shit race that shows how stupid and childish they are that get excited by bright lights and big bangs. Pathetic.”
- R Barendse “Diwali, the disgraceful religion of cruelty and shame.”
- D Steyn (on WhatsApp), “Simple, take your so-called fireworks and fuck off you selfless humans.”
Is all this hate against the backdrop of how a religious minority, less than 1% of the South African population, can celebrate with such glee, greatness, and grandeur? It becomes necessary to adopt the view of Ziyad Motala: “We have emerged from vicious intolerance and seek to transcend the divisions, aspiring towards a rainbow nation that maintains and celebrates pluralism… (where) our triumphs inform and instruct all that human dignity, equality and tolerance is a great centripetal force in fostering nation-building.”
Nelson Mandela made it a point that: “Never, never and never again, shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another, and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”
A minority of certain unpigmented South Africans who hold economic power and are seemingly unpatriotic unless it suits their interests should reflect on the words of Chief Justice Langa, “Our society which values dignity, equality, and freedom must therefore require people to act positively to accommodate diversity.” According to the Constitution, South Africans must respect and appropriately accept diversity.
To this end, one is reminded of the words of David Letsoalo: “Those who hold economic power are in a good position to influence or dictate the social, political, economic, and, importantly, the cultural agenda of the country. These include the education, spiritual, and language considerations.”
Without apology, the reality that South Africa supports freedom while apartheid is still very much in force is abhorred; therefore, one is drawn to reiterating Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s words in his 1906 Regeneration of Africa address at the Columbia University in the US, where he said that: “I am an African, and I set my pride in my race over a hostile public opinion.”
In the same manner as the inauguration of a president is marked by gun salutes and flyover airplane displays. In the same manner, King Shaka Day is celebrated on the 24th of September with shisa nyama, song, dress, and dance. In the same manner, the AmaZulu King’s traditional coronation is marked by slaughtering animals and the roaring rattle of amabutho. In the same manner, the arrival anniversary after 14 years of exile of the famed and acclaimed Hindu King Lord Rama from the forest to His palace, as well as the pious prayer day dedicated to the Hindu Goddess of Prosperity and Abundance, Maha Lakshmi, both celebrated as Diwali with fantastic feasts and fireworks, will not have its greatness bow to greenness, rather, it will remain a golden celebration.
Vedhan Singh is a first-generation Africa Unite Human Rights Peer Educator and graduate of both the inaugural Human Rights for Social Cohesion and Community Conflict Mediation Programme in KwaZulu-Natal. Views expressed are his own and not necessarily of Africa Unite.