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TAVERN TRAGEDY

‘They were our only hope’ — matric exams a painful reminder for bereaved Enyobeni families

‘They were our only hope’ — matric exams a painful reminder for bereaved Enyobeni families
A group of young people from Scenery Park in East London outside Enyobeni Tavern in the Eastern Cape shortly after the tragedy in which 21 young people died. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

As the country’s matrics wrote their first exam paper this week, the families of the Enyobeni Tavern victims — some of whom should have been writing as well — visited their graves and reflected on bright futures that were tragically ended. This was as the Eastern Cape Liquor Board launched a campaign to curb post-exam parties.

Esinako Sanarhana, Nathi Ngqoza and Bhongolwethu Ncandana were Grade 12 learners who died from still undetermined causes at Enyobeni Tavern in June this year.

Best friends Nathi and Esinako, who wanted to become a lawyer, were at Sakhikamva Senior Secondary School, while Bhongolwethu attended West Bank High School in East London.

They were among 21 teenagers who died at the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London, on the night of 26 June. 

A post-mortem report shared with parents said the victims had crush injuries and had suffocated. However, the results of a final toxicology report have not been made public.

A preliminary report found that all the victims had some methanol, a type of alcohol — harmful and potentially deadly to humans — in their blood.

Follow-up tests were reportedly performed to determine if these concentrations of methanol were fatal, but the results have not come to light.

The teenagers were at a “pens down” party celebrating the start of the winter holidays.

enyobeni victims

Nathi Ngqoza (left) and Esinako Sanarhana (right), who both died in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy. (Photo: Supplied)

These are their names: 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.

Graveside visits, families’ pain

Esinako Sanarhana’s younger sister, Liyema Malangeni, visited her sibling’s grave and asked that her sister’s spirit guide her ahead of the end-of-year exams.

Nathi Ngqoza’s sister, Siphokazi Toyi, said it was a very painful week for the family: “Last week they were having a matric dance… that brought back many memories because Nathi was talking about the matric dance since the beginning of the year, planning to wear the best beautiful attire…”

Nathi wanted to become an actress and dreamt of taking part in Idols.

“Today it’s another painful day because, if she was still alive, she was supposed to write her first paper as well… I do not know how we will be feeling when the matric results come out. I think it will be even more painful than this,” Toyi said.

Esinako’s father, Xolile Malangeni, said his daughter had been determined to excel in her exams: “Liyema went to visit her grave to ask for her sister to assist her in exams… you will understand how we do things as the amaXhosa.”

‘Ambitious’

Another parent, Khululekile Ncandana, described his late son, Bhongolwethu, as an ambitious young man.

“The boy was so ambitious… he wanted to pursue his studies at university and do a degree in logistics and supply chain management. He was keen to work for the police, but he wanted to go there with a degree or a diploma in his hands.

“It was emotional on Monday because our son was supposed to be among the pupils who were starting their final exams,” Ncandana said.

Another victim, Kungentando Nzima, was in Grade 12 at Alphendale Senior Secondary School and loved mathematics, according to a eulogy delivered by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July at a joint memorial for victims of the tragedy. 

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Some parents of the young victims said they wanted to join the Eastern Cape Liquor Board in its campaign to stop excessive end-of-year parties in taverns around the province.

Parents have also stressed that those who survived must be allowed to tell their stories and allow others to learn from the tragedy.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Survivor says some people brought alcohol from another shebeen to ‘tavern of death’ ”

Ntombizonke Mgangala, an elderly relative of Sinothando Mgangala, said, “If they want this to be effective, they should open it to everybody to be involved… there are survivors who can contribute positively in this campaign, even though some may be not interested.”

Grieving parent Khululekile Ncandana added that communities should be involved: “I won’t say this [Liquor Board] campaign is too late. Maybe it can make a difference, because people have been complaining about underage drinking.

“I think this can make a difference, but it also runs the risk of not having an impact if communities are not involved.”

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board launched its campaign to stop alcohol-fuelled end-of-exams parties in East London and Gqeberha in October. Board spokesperson Dr Mgwebi Msiya said they were rolling out a similar campaign in Mthatha.

“The planned roll-out of the campaign in Mthatha has been triggered by two viral videos that show learners from two schools in a celebratory mood, showing signs of insobriety.

“In one of the videos, police are seen dispersing learners who look intoxicated, and this has raised that alarm as learners will soon be finishing examinations and may already be clandestinely planning for the ‘pens down’ parties,” he said.

Schools targeted

He said schools whose learners appeared in the videos have been identified and will be specifically targeted.

“We seek to prevent events that may potentially have devastating results like those at the Enyobeni Tavern, where 21 young people perished during the ‘pens down’ celebrations for the end of the mid-year examinations.”

The theme of the Liquor Board’s intervention is: “My future matters, alcohol must wait.”

Lucky Ntimane of the Liquor Traders Association said they were 100% in support of any campaign that seeks to foster a culture of responsible trading and consumption of alcohol.

‘Our hearts are broken’ – Ramaphosa calls for debate on lifting drinking age at mass funeral

“End-of-exam parties drive underage drinking and we condemn any liquor trader who puts the profits ahead of… the community and society at large. Liquor traders should address societal ills and not contribute to them.”

The manager and owner of the Enyobeni Tavern, Siyakhangela and Vuyokazi Ndevu, are due back in court on 25 November on charges of selling alcohol to minors. Nobody has been charged with the deaths of the teenagers.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s Luxolo Tyali said the investigation and all reports were still with the police. DM/MC

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    This whole saga illustrates how the state has been made ungovernable, which impacts the livelihoods of the most vulnerable in a fragile economy. Our politicians should hang their stupid heads in shame, but they are impervious to any sense of morality.

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