02/05/2017 12:55 BST | Updated 02/05/2017 12:55 BST

Are Health Bylaws Racist?

The bylaws clearly protect the constitutional rights of both those wishing to practice their culture as well as the rest of the broader community.

Worshippers arrives for an outdoor church service on the Melville Koppies Hill in Johannesburg on July 7, 2013. The church groups on the Koppie belong to a broader movement known as the African Independent or Initiated Churches (AICs), which have their origins in Pentecostalism, a worldwide charismatic Christian movement with roots in early 20th century America.

A recent query in a closed community Facebook forum has started a racial firestorm in a sleepy little suburb of Johannesburg, where harmony reigned previously and racial divides were absent when everyone united in protest against President Jacob Zuma two days prior. A resident reported "four people slaughtering an animal" next to Melville Main road and requested assistance on the correct channels of reporting this matter and which authorities to report it to.

There was a subsequent explosion of discussions on the topic, which was driven by a fellow resident indicating the racist and anti-cultural nature of the original post. The community was polarised and the discussions invariable turned into racial mudslinging, which drifted far off the original point. The only saving grace is that this was a closed forum and everyone else was blissfully unaware.

The counter question is a valid one -- are these specific City of Johannesburg Health Bylaws racist and anti-cultural and by extension, does requesting their enforcement make you racist? The Health Bylaws make provision for the slaughtering of animals in the suburbs, with section 147 of the bylaws dealing with the slaughtering animals for religious or ceremonial purposes. Section 147(2) specifically deals with the requirements for slaughtering an animal outside an abattoir.

The practice itself is not banned or illegal, but certain regulations do apply. The city council needs to be informed two weeks prior to the ritual and there are also various regulations dealing with the use of the meat and the disposal of the remains. There are definite health implications for not disposing of the remains in a regulated manner and the requirements are that it should not become a "public health hazard or public health nuisance". One of the pertinent points to this debate is Regulation 147(2b) which states that "slaughtering cannot be observed by any person on neighbouring premises or any member of the public".

Obviously, if the practice is observed by a passing motorist, that is a breach of this particular bylaw. If the persons involved in the slaughter informed the city council two weeks prior, the city council would have either told them they cannot slaughter the animal in a public space, or they would have been required to screen the slaughter from view of the public. An unconsidered issue in the whole debate was that the slaughtering incident was occurring just inside the broken boundary fence of a local conservation area, which probably also brings a breach of several other pieces of Nature Conservation Legislation into the fray.

Returning to the original debate, which was on the racist nature of questioning an animal being slaughtered next to the road, are there any grounds to the accusation? The bylaws allow for animals being slaughtered in a suburb, which is not biased towards any particular culture. The bylaws, however, also protect the rest of the public from having to witness the slaughtering. Anyone has the constitutional right to practice their religion by slaughtering an animal in a suburb and in turn, the city council is allowed to govern this by applicable regulations.

The Constitution goes further to enshrine that "Everyone has the right to use the language and to participate in the cultural life of their choice." There is, however, the distinct proviso that no one exercising these rights may do so in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights. The rest of the community has a constitutional right to dignity and the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing. The bylaws clearly protect the constitutional rights of both those wishing to practice their culture as well as the rest of the broader community and labelling someone a racist for requesting their enforcement, is definitely out of line in our rainbow nation.