Where is the Enyobeni victims’ toxicology report?
A final toxicology report which could shed light on what caused the deaths of the 21 Enyobeni Tavern victims does not appear to be in the possession of investigators or prosecutors.
From what Maverick Citizen could establish, the investigating team, the National Prosecuting Authority and the parents of those who died in Enyobeni Tavern have not seen the toxicology report. Eastern Cape government officials and the police are not answering questions about its whereabouts.
A meeting between prosecutors and investigators looking into the tragedy has been scheduled for this week, but the NPA has confirmed that it has “not yet” received a toxicology report detailing what killed the youngsters.
NPA spokesperson Luxolo Tyali said decisions will be made based on this outstanding toxicology report, as well as other “aspects of the investigation”.
But where the toxicology report is, nobody will say.
Twenty-one young people — the youngest aged just 13 — died at the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London, in the early hours of 26 June. They were at a “pens down” party celebrating the start of the winter holidays.
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.
The manager of the tavern, Siyakhangela Ndevu, and his wife Vuyokazi Ndevu, who owns the establishment, appeared in the East London Magistrates’ Court on Friday. They are each charged with two offences of selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18, and for conniving with and permitting employees and agents to sell or deliver intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18.
They will reappear in court on 5 October.
It is understood that when a death is being investigated, a post-mortem report is drawn up and issued by a pathologist who is responsible for determining what killed the person. If further investigation is required, blood or other bodily samples — in this case, stomach content — are sent to a specialised laboratory for analysis. A separate toxicology report is then issued once the necessary tests are done.
It is this report that nobody wants to talk about in the case of the Enyobeni victims.
The post-mortem results ruled out that the deaths were caused by a stampede or carbon monoxide poisoning. At a press conference in July, the deputy director-general for clinical governance, Dr Litha Matiwane, explained that biological samples were sent to Cape Town for further analysis and to assist in determining the cause of death.
Positive methanol tests
At this stage, blood alcohol levels for the deceased had already been tested and, while high in some cases, were not fatal. A preliminary toxicology report flagged that all of the deceased had tested positive for the presence of methanol in their blood. Methanol is a type of alcohol that is toxic to humans.
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Matiwane said at the July press conference that further tests would be done to ascertain if the levels of methanol could have been fatal. At this conference, also attended by Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane and Police Minister Bheki Cele, not a word was said indicating that the children either suffocated or suffered fatal crush injuries.
No details about further methanol testing have been made public.
Shortly after the tragedy, the owners of the tavern were allowed to remove all alcohol from the premises.
‘Crush’ injuries or suffocation
Parents were informed last week that their children either suffered “crush” injuries or suffocated due to overcrowding at the venue. However, Eastern Cape health department director of communications, Siyanda Manana, refused to confirm this as the cause of death. He said they had received legal advice not to make the cause of death public.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Tavern victims’ parents told children ‘crushed and suffocated’, but denied access to post-mortem results”
Methanol poisoning, while not frequent, is not that rare and often happens when something goes wrong in the manufacturing process of homemade alcohol. It was also seen during lockdown when people tried to drink hand sanitiser. There have been documented cases of methanol — which as an industrial alcohol is cheaper — being used to cut drinks to increase volume.
Western Cape health department spokesperson Mark van den Heever said in July that the samples from the victims had been sent to the Forensic Chemistry Laboratory in Woodstock, which is operated by the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS).
Mzi Gcukamana, senior communications manager for the NHLS, said in July that “the National Health Laboratory Service does not communicate patient results publicly or to third parties… Please refer your query to the Investigating Officer/SAPS for further information.”
We asked him on Tuesday if the toxicology report had been sent to the police. He did not respond.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana, asked if they had received the toxicology report, said only that they had received the post-mortem report.
Health MEC Nomakhosazana Meth said on Monday that the families of the victims were told they could fetch written post-mortem reports from the investigating officer. However, still no mention of the toxicology report.
Her spokesperson did not respond to requests for clarity. DM/MC