Maverick Citizen

ENYOBENI TRAGEDY

Tavern victims’ parents told children ‘crushed and suffocated’, but denied access to post-mortem results

Tavern victims’ parents told children ‘crushed and suffocated’, but denied access to post-mortem results
A parent of one of the victims, Nomawethu Mboyiya, in tears outside the Eastern Cape Department of Health offices in East London on 1 September after being told her child died of suffocation. Comforting her is Siphokazi Toyi. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Offering excuses ranging from ‘I don’t know’ to suggesting that parents should apply for post-mortem results through the Promotion of Access to Information Act, to invoking patient-doctor privilege, to citing the privacy of families, to proclaiming legal advice, the director of communications for the Eastern Cape health department, Siyanda Manana, on Thursday did everything but provide clarity on what killed 21 youngsters at the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London on 27 June.

Parents and guardians of the 21 young people who died at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London, in June this year were told in private meetings with officials on Thursday that their children had died after being suffocated and “crushed” due to overcrowding.

The Eastern Cape Department of Health refused the bereaved families access to written post-mortem results that detailed the injuries to their children.

Those who died at the tavern were: Esinako Sanarhana, Sikelela Tshemese, Sinothando Mgangala, Thembinkosi Silwane, Azizipho Zilindile, Bhongolethu Ncandana, Aluncedo Monelo, Mbulelo Rangile, Nathi Ngqoza, Inathi Nkani, Asamkele Thukuthe, Lithemba Velaphi, Sandanathi Mahlakahlaka, Simamkele Sobetwa, Kungentando Nzima, Lilitha Methuko, Lungile Bekiso, Ovayo Mateyise, Inamandla Wexu, Simele Bolsiki and Oyena Ngoloyi.

enyobeni family members

Some of the frustrated family members (from left, front row) are Nomawethu Mboyiya, Thozama Sanarana and Siphokazi Toyi after receiving the results of the post-mortem for their children. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Most of the victims were under 18 — the youngest was 13 years old. They were at the tavern to celebrate the end of school term and the start of the winter holidays.

On 27 June, a day after their lifeless bodies were carried out of the Enyobeni Tavern, a stampede was ruled out as a possible cause of death. The same with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Forensic samples were gathered and sent to Cape Town to determine what caused the deaths.

enyobeni tavern victims

Eastern Cape Department of Health communications director Siyanda Manana and Khululekile Ncandana, a parent of an Enyobeni Tavern victim, Bhongolethu Ncandana. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

In July, parents were told that preliminary toxicology results showed the presence of methanol in the deceased’s blood, which could indicate methanol poisoning. But the department said at the time it was still waiting for results on whether the levels were potentially fatal.

No mention of these test results has been made since.

Last week, the parents were asked to come to the Cambridge offices of the Department of Health on 1 September. There, they were told in private meetings that the youngsters had suffocated and/or were crushed due to overcrowding in the tavern.

‘Legal opinion’

But health department officials refuse to confirm this publicly, saying they have received a legal opinion advising them not to do so.

enyobeni funeral

Mourners at the mass symbolic funeral on 6 July 2022 of teenagers who lost their lives at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park outside East London. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

No mention of such a legal opinion was made in July when a press conference was called by Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, Police Minister Bheki Cele and provincial health department officials. At the time, journalists were told there were preliminary indications that the victims all had levels of methanol in their blood. The department’s director of clinical governance, Litha Matiwane, said more tests were being done.

Then on Thursday, 1 September, officials had a new cause of death: crush injuries and suffocation due to overcrowding. However, they had no post-mortem reports to confirm this.


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Health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana, briefing the media outside the building as families met officials, refused to confirm the official cause of death.

“Why can’t you tell us what killed those children?” one journalist asked.

“We are guided in terms of the families. We have to be sensitive. I cannot cross that line,” he replied.

Manana confirmed that they were meeting the families, along with the police, officials from the Department of Home Affairs, the South African Council of Churches and members of the religious fraternity.

enyobeni candles

A group of young people from Scenery Park in East London hold candles outside Enyobeni Tavern on 28 June 2022, a day after the tragedy. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

He said they were sharing the cause of death with the families, but that he could not divulge details as it was a confidential document since “there is an inquest”.

“The cause of death is contained in the documents which we have as a department… We are not mandated to disclose the [cause of death]… there are issues between a patient and a doctor… in this instance, it becomes important that you respect the rights of a person.

“We solicited a legal opinion on the matter and were advised that this is what it should be. There is nothing sinister about what we are doing.

“The document will be available… the [parents] are aware how to access the Promotion of Access to Information Act,” Manana added.

‘Painful and frustrating’

Ntombbizonke Mgangala, a relative of one of the young victims, said they were not told of any physical injuries suffered by the children, only that they were crushed and had suffocated due to overcrowding. 

“When we ask what we can do to get the report, they say their rule is to only give us the cause of death. It is devastating. It is painful and frustrating. They just tell us crushed, crushed, crushed. 

enyobeni forensic investigators

Forensic investigators at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London on 28 June 2022, the day after the tragedy. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

“They said to us that because they have involved other physicians investigating the matter, it is no longer the methanol. They said it was not a stampede. It is crushing. We don’t know what the difference is,” said Mgangala.

“I have more questions. They promised us that they are going to give us written reports, but now they say we are not allowed to get written reports. They told us we must apply for it.

“We are not going to rest until we get the right answers. Something is going on. We are not going to let it go. We are going to ask for legal assistance… take a stand. We are going to do something about it.

Disappointed

Thozama Sanarana, also a family member of one of the deceased, said they were very disappointed and were not expecting the news they received.

“They had ruled out stampede [as a cause of death], but now all of a sudden they are telling us that the kids were crushed and suffocated,” Sanarana said.

“We feel we are being undermined when we try to seek clarity on something… we are being told that we will hear everything in court. We were hoping that we would close this thing by today.”

Nomawethu Mboyiya’s child, Sandanathi Mahlakahlaka, was among those who died in the tavern. She was told Sandanathi died because the children were crushed.

“I told them that I am not happy with the report… they wasted our time.”

Many of the families said they did not believe what they were being told and were frustrated at not being able to see the post-mortem reports. 

Meanwhile, the manager of Enyobeni Tavern, Siyakhangela Ndevu, who is married to the owner, is back in court on Friday for a pre-trial conference.

He has been charged with selling liquor to minors. DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    The arrogance of those in power is breath-taking; who are they now seeking to protect? Clearly some ANC bigwig who probably owns the tavern and was selling methanol based hooch?

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What is the state is covering up? Come on, DM, time for another wretched expose!

  • virginia crawford says:

    Mr Dali Mpofu, please offer your services pro bono to these families. This is the one time whete your insulting and aggressive interrogation method would be appropriate and applauded.

  • Sven Coles says:

    What a travesty. Justice has not been served and the families of the victims are still in the dark regarding the cause of this tragedy. The officials should be ashamed of themselves. They have not served the public.

  • Ingrid Kemp says:

    There is something ‘fishy’ going on here

  • Coenie Harley says:

    If the minister with the hat and his incompetent entourage didn’t start the baseless stories initially of what might have caused this disaster, I think we could have swallowed the legal opinion story now. He, the hat man, must come now and finished what he started. The families need urgent answers from him and not a puppet that works like a recording.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Suspicious! The parents are entitled to this information but of course since the authorities were negligent they have reason to hide the truth

  • Michael Forsyth says:

    This is shocking arrogance on the part of the department. Treating their constituents like dirt.

  • Jaqueline Perkes says:

    Ashamed! How can this information be withheld from the guardians of these youngsters? No justification at all, except the usual fucking high handed approach to poor people who have no recourse to action. We as a nation deserve to know what happened to these kids and this obfuscation is just rubbish!

  • Katie Friedman says:

    The disdain and contempt with which these bereaved parents are being treated is utterly unacceptable. I trust one of our community will offer legal assistance and this limbo (which continues to cause further, unimaginable pain to the families) will be ended. A proper, public investigation should be instigated by the government, findings made public and prosecutions brought.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    I would imagine no reports from any medical institution would be handed out without some sort of formal documented process being followed. Evidently they asked for reports, but did they follow due process. I don’t see this in the article so cannot come to any conclusions on this matter. We need more information.

  • David Purnell says:

    Begs the question – does anyone know what action caused the death of 21 children in that tavern?
    PAIA application will get parent forensic report for his/her child, but looks as if that won’t provide information other than actual cause of death.
    SAPS investigation capacity should have already identified what happened! Combination of eye-witness evidence, forensic evidence and crime scene evaluation – what has been botched?
    The parents (as well as the public) need answers!!

  • Thomas Cleghorn says:

    Post mortem results were completed by Digital Vibes…. Truth be told, I’d be plesantly surprised at a dated and thoroughly investigated post mortem. All in all, crappy service for the public as seems to be the order of the decades.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    I wonder if the trial of the manager of the tavern and his wife does not have something to do with the reluctance of the officials to come out in the open about the cause of deaths. Maybe some of the information needs to be kept confidential so it can be used in the interrogation during the trial. Much the same as what Ramaphosa mentions as the reason why the law enforcement officers requested him to hold back on the information about the theft on his farm.

  • Peter Holmes says:

    Don’t understand why (a few of?) the families don’t follow the private post mortem route with an independent pathologist.

  • talfrynharris says:

    Given the state of the Eastern Cape Health Department and SAPS it would be quite realistic to assign the worst possible motives to their refusal to release the post-mortem results, or a report revealing the cause of the tragedy. However it is possible that there is indeed legal advice not to release information that could jeapardize the trial of the tavern manager. The law must be allowed to take its course. It is hard though for the families, they should be given the clarity they seek as soon as possible.

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