‘Our hearts are broken’ – Ramaphosa calls for debate on lifting drinking age at mass funeral
This is the speech delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the mass funeral for the victims of the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy. Twenty-one young people, the youngest being 13, died in the tavern on 26 June. The cause of their deaths is still unknown and the police investigation is continuing.
Our hearts are broken.
We have lost our children.
There are parents who will not get to hug or kiss their son or daughter again.
There are grandparents who will not be blessed to see their grandson or granddaughter growing up and having a family of their own.
In the classrooms there are chairs that are empty.
In one night, here in Scenery Park, 21 bright lives were snuffed out.
I have heard some say I have no business coming here to Scenery Park.
Some have said I have bigger problems to fix.
But I ask them: what is more important in this country, and on this Earth, than the lives of our children?
These were not only the children of their families, of Scenery Park, and of East London. Ibingabantwana bethu sonke. They were our children.
And that is why I am here. That is why we are all here.
We are not here to play politics.
We are not here to judge anyone for what they did or did not do for their children or for their friends on the night of the 26th of June 2022.
We are here to mourn the 21 young people who died.
Each and every one of them had a beautiful soul. They each had beautiful dreams. They each had a bright future ahead of them.
Lithemba Velapi was looking forward to studying tourism management at Buffalo City College. He was 20 years old.
Kungentando Nzima was in Grade 12 at Alphandale Senior Secondary School and loved mathematics.
Yesterday, Lilitha Methuko would have celebrated her 17th birthday, and she told her mother she was planning to buy two cakes to celebrate.
Lungile Bekiso from Scenery Park would have turned 17 in November and liked playing soccer with his friends.
Ovayo Mateyise attended Lumko High School where he loved soccer and watching rugby on TV. Yesterday would have been his 15th birthday.
Inamandla Wexu was a brilliant learner. When his family asked him how his recent exams had gone, he said: “You know I never fail.”
Oyena Ngoloyi was buried by her family in Middledrift yesterday. She was popular at school. One of her friends wrote on her Facebook page: “Lala ngoxolo mntase. Greet those in the house who have left us, and please be our star when we go out at night.”
Sikelela Tshemese was 15 years old. He was quiet and respectful and helpful around the home.
Simele Bolsiki was known in the community for always looking neat and tidy and for working hard at Qaqamba Senior Secondary School.
Azizipho Zilindile’s siblings say they will miss how he was always patient with them and that he loved children. One of his teachers has described him as a gentle spirit.
Esinako Sanarana was 17 years old and wanted to become a lawyer someday.
Sinothando Mgangala liked hanging out with his friends at Mthiza High School.
Bhongolethu Ncandana was in Grade 12 from West Bank High School. She wanted to be a policewoman.
Nathi Ngqoza had dreams of becoming an actress and to compete on Idols. She was 17 years old.
Aluncedo Monelo was 17 years old. He was a talented artist who drew portraits of family members and of people in the community.
Inathi Nkani was 18 years old and the last born of her mother.
She is described as kind and a big dreamer.
Mbulelo Rangile was 18 years old. He will be laid to rest this weekend. He was a smart dresser and much loved by his family.
Simmamnkele Sobethwa was popular with her family and friends at Kusile Comprehensive School who held a memorial service for her. She was 17 years old.
Asamnkele Thukuthe was a learner at Mzokhanyo Senior Secondary School.
Sandanathi Mahlakahlaka was in Grade 9 and 15 years old. At the school memorial service her classmates described her as a beautiful flower with a lovely smile.
Thembinkosi Silwane attended Zwelemfundo Primary School. He was just 13 years old. His last words to his mother before going out that night were: “I’m coming back, Mama.”
These are the lives we have lost. They are not just bodies and souls. Our nation has lost young people who wanted to become doctors, teachers, policemen and women, lawyers, actors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs.
They had hopes to become something in life. They planned to help and take care of their families. They wanted to serve their communities and serve their country.
We are here today to pass our condolences to all the families that have lost their children. We are also here to express our grief as a nation. We are also here to reflect on the tragedy that has befallen us.
The young people we are burying lost their lives in a tavern. Indawo yokusela utywala, indawo yabantu abadala.
I will say it again, ithaveni yindawo yabantu abadala. Ithaveni asiyondawo yabantwana.
These were young people, full of life. They wanted a place to meet with their friends and have a good time to celebrate the end of their exams.
It is shameful that there are people out there who are blaming the parents, and even blaming the young people for going there.
We still do not know what led to these tragic deaths.
We commend the South African Police Service for conducting a swift investigation into what happened, and as a nation we urge our police to conclude the investigation to bring peace to the families, and justice to all who died.
There is however blame to be laid.
Blame must be laid at the feet of those who are making money off the dreams and lives of the young people of South Africa by breaking the law and selling them alcohol.
We have seen the pictures and videos on social media of young men and women in Enyobeni tavern on the night of 26th of June 2022.
Children should not have been allowed inside that place, a place of adults. They should not have been served alcohol.
What was happening was illegal.
Apha eScenery Park, nase Duncan Village, nase Mdantsane, nase Malinda, across East London, across the Eastern Cape, across the country, kuzo zonke indawo, there are liquor establishments putting profits before the lives of the children of this country.
This is not the first time there has been a tragedy in a place where young people gathered to celebrate.
Before this tragedy there was the Osi’s tavern in Khayelitsha in 2015, where eight young women died. There was the Throb nightclub disaster in Durban in 2000, where 13 children died and 100 were injured.
What is common to all of these is that they were selling and serving alcohol to underage patrons, in violation of the law.
This is not to even count the many incidents across the country of young people getting injured and hurt in alcohol-related violence inside these places, getting into road accidents, or becoming victims of crime after leaving these places.
It is not to even count the risky behaviour like driving drunk, or having unprotected sex, that happens when young people who are below the legal age of drinking are sold alcohol in violation of the law.
We are losing our future generation to the scourge of underage drinking.
Alcohol is highly addictive. It is something to be consumed in moderation and responsibly, and only by those who are of the legal age to do so, and mature enough to handle its effects.
Alcohol abuse leads to many social problems, such as gender-based violence, sex crimes, interpersonal violence, murders and deaths on our roads.
The bodies and brains of young people are still growing and changing. They are too young to understand the fine line between having a good time and becoming addicted.
When young people abuse alcohol, they miss school. They fall behind in their learning. They get into fights and into trouble. They get depressed easily and have thoughts of suicide.
Like I said, we do not know yet exactly what killed our children. But we do know that the law was broken that night, and probably many nights before then.
Many young people under the age of 18 were drinking alcohol that had been sold to them. The youngest child who died in this tragedy was just 13 years old.
The law is clear. Alcohol may not be sold or served to anyone under the age of 18. Owners of establishments that are permitted to sell alcohol have to ensure that anyone they sell alcohol to is over the age of 18 by asking for IDs.
I have said earlier that we are here to mourn, and not to judge.
The young souls that we have lost went out that night to have fun. They wanted to be with their friends. They wanted to party and listen to good music.
There are many places of entertainment around the country for young people. The owners of many of these places obey the law and make sure that alcohol is not sold to minors. They ensure that their places are safe, have the necessary facilities, comply with building regulations, have adequate ventilation, and other amenities. They are responsible businesses who put their customers first.
But there are others who are out to make money whatever the cost.
They lure young people with promises of cheap or free alcohol. They produce flyers and adverts featuring young people drinking, to make it look cool and acceptable.
With all this aggressive marketing of alcohol to young people, is it then no wonder that at least one in every four young South Africans has consumed alcohol by the ages of 15 to 19?
Is it then no wonder that our children have come to associate having a good time with having drinks, and why so many indulge in heavy or binge drinking?
These unscrupulous operators don’t care if their venues become too overcrowded, as long as more people are coming in, paying entrance fees, and ordering from the bar.
We commend the Buffalo City Metro Municipality for cracking down on establishments that are breaking the law. This must be replicated in every district in the country.
We commend the multisectoral team involving our Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Children, Youth and Persons with Disabilities for taking keen interest in being part of this effort. We also thank the municipality, local fire department, disaster management, building planning and the environment, as well as law-enforcement for being part of this effort.
I want to commend the Eastern Cape Liquor Board, working with the Department of Social Development, for continuing to conduct inspections and monitoring compliance of shebeens and taverns in the metro.
The metro is investigating whether Enyobeni Tavern had the necessary permits and was complying with municipal regulations. We know this is a difficult time, but I want to call on the community to let this as well as the police investigation run its course.
This tragedy has affected all of us as a nation, as families, as parents, as neighbours and as a community. In our African culture, children are raised by a community, not by a family alone. My neighbour’s child is my child, and my child is my neighbour’s child.
As communities we have to come together to do more to collectively bring up and support our children and play a more active role in their lives.
We have to help our law-enforcement authorities to keep our young people safe by working with them.
We must work with municipal authorities to report not just shebeens and taverns selling alcohol to minors, but also places where young people are sold drugs.
We know where these places are. We know who operates them. Sometimes they are right next door to us. But we turn a blind eye, thinking it is not our problem and we are not affected.
But we are all affected when these wrong things take hold in our communities. Today it is somebody else’s child, tomorrow it could be yours.
Municipal authorities and local law-enforcement officials must heed the calls and complaints from our communities, and not ignore them or not take them seriously.
Ward councillors must be more visible in our communities and take up the issues concerning our people with the city council and other authorities.
Councillors are elected to serve our communities, to represent them and to speak for them.
As educators and as school governing bodies, we must work with our parents and with law-enforcement to ensure that the laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol close to schools are enforced, and report to authorities when these laws are broken.
As communities, we must unite to organise safe and age-appropriate recreational and social activities for our young people, so they are not lured to dangerous places.
Our young people are tavern-hopping because there is nowhere else for them to go and have a good time.
Here in Scenery Park, and in many other townships in our country, there are not enough proper facilities for sport, youth centres or libraries.
I want to call on the metro and the Eastern Cape government to make good on their promises to develop more spaces and programmes for the young people of Scenery Park and other disadvantaged areas of the province.
Our young people should not be forced to hang on street corners, bahlale ezikoneni, to visit taverns, and to end up in dangerous places because they have nowhere else to hang out.
We want to see our ward councillors lobbying for more activities, programmes, and facilities to be rolled out by provincial authorities in our communities, and meet with local businesses to get them on board with sponsorships and other means of support.
Our country has extensive laws to address and combat substance and alcohol abuse. We are not short of laws. The problem lies in their implementation.
The Prevention of and Treatment of Substance Abuse Act calls for the establishment of local drug action committees in all municipalities.
We have recently seen these committees being launched in municipalities in the Free State, in Gauteng and in the Western Cape.
These local drug action committees are critical for bringing communities, organisations, business, educators and government together to devise strategies to combat substance abuse.
The establishment of local drug action committees is being championed by the Central Drug Authority, [which] advises government on drug policies and strategies.
I want to call on all mayors to appoint local drug action committees in every ward and to give them the necessary support from the municipality.
We are also mindful that alcohol is as addictive, as dangerous and as harmful as any drug. That is why underage alcohol consumption must be included in the architecture of the local drug action committees.
Since 2019, we have had a National Drug Master Plan as a country. I want to call on the Eastern Cape government and all provincial governments to step up implementation of their provincial drug master plans, with a renewed focus on outreach and public awareness raising.
We often hear from parents that they did not even know their children drink alcohol and abuse substances. We also know that young people often hide these activities from their parents.
By helping to create greater awareness of the harmful effects of underage drinking, we will help our parents, caregivers and educators spot the signs of alcohol and substance abuse and seek the necessary help.
The outreach that the Buffalo City Metro has been conducting should continue.
We call on the Eastern Cape government to further step up efforts to monitor the implementation of regulations and laws at places that sell alcohol.
I want to once again call on our communities to join their local community policing forums and to work with law enforcement by reporting violations of the law.
We have a strong message to send to all those establishments breaking the law and bringing us closer to tragedies like what happened at Enyobeni Tavern: if you are breaking the law, you will be shut down.
I want to call on the people of Scenery Park, of East London, of Galeshewe, of Bishop Lavis, of Beacon Valley, of Phoenix, of Eldorado Park, of Alexandra, of Montshiwa, and of New Brighton to help us take back our communities not just from establishments illegally selling poison to our children, but from all forms of crime.
Because what happened on the 26th of June 2022 in Scenery Park was a crime.
We share a responsibility as a people to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again. We have a responsibility as adults to guide our youth until they reach maturity and adulthood, and above all to set a positive example for them.
As community leaders, as elders and religious organisations, let us support our families who are going through difficulties that are not only financial.
Parents, especially of single-parent families, need our emotional and spiritual support as they try to raise children in this difficult world.
The family is the cradle that nurtures our next generation, and it is within the family that children are taught basic values, self-esteem and how to resist peer pressure.
The Department of Social Development runs a number of programmes across the country to support families, to build life skills among adolescents, and to support young people at risk.
One such example is the RISIHA, a community-based child protection programme to assist vulnerable children, orphans and child-headed households. One of the programme’s pilot sites is here in Scenery Park, and being supported by six child and youth care workers.
The department also runs programmes to empower parents with parenting skills, and the Sinovuyo Teens Parenting Programme that specifically focuses on improving the relationship between caregivers and young people.
As much as we continue with these efforts, we know much more still needs to be done to curb the abuse of alcohol and drugs by young people.
Alcohol should not be marketed to children and adolescents, and the relevant regulatory bodies must enforce this.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of problem drinkers in the world.
We will continue to enforce regulations around alcohol being sold in larger container sizes in a manner that encourages binge drinking.
Provincial and national liquor authorities must increase enforcement by monitoring registered outlets and closing down unregistered ones.
Binge drinking even among over-18s is a growing problem. Institutions of higher learning need to look at ways to curb the availability of alcohol on their premises, including in residences and at recreational facilities on campuses.
Today we shed bitter tears for the 21 young people that have died in this tragedy. We must ensure that there is justice for them.
We do not want more parents to get a call in the middle of the night about the death of their child, or be asked to come and identify their children who have passed away. We do not want any parent to experience this pain.
This is a national crisis, and we are going to act.
Many years ago, when government embarked upon a programme to reduce harm caused by tobacco use, it was heavily criticised and met with resistance. Today we take it for granted that the anti-smoking laws exist, and they are being complied with by the majority of our people.
A similar approach, matched by the necessary interventions, is needed to reduce the harm of alcohol abuse among our young people.
These children should not have died. Their deaths could have been prevented had the law been adhered to.
We thank the provincial government and the metro, and our friends in the private sector for assisting to give our children this dignified send-off. We thank all the government departments who have assisted the bereaved families with assistance, with food parcels and with counselling.
In times like this, it is a great comfort that we have come together to stand with the families and give them our support.
To the families,
On behalf of the community, on behalf of all the people of South Africa, I express my deepest condolences to you, to the friends, and to all the loved ones of our children.
There are no words that can bring comfort at this time, but may your pain be relieved. May your hearts be eased. May your tears be wiped dry.
We are with you. We mourn with you. We are so sorry.
I thank you. DM
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