Maverick Citizen


Parents of dead children call for President to launch inquiry into Enyobeni Tavern tragedy

Parents of dead children call for President to launch inquiry into Enyobeni Tavern tragedy
Friends and family of some of the 21 young people who died at Enyobeni Tavern in East London pay tribute to the deceased. (Photo: Siyabulela Duda / GCIS)

Families who lost children in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, and civil society organisations, have launched a petition calling on President Cyril Ramaphosa to help them get justice after the deaths of 21 young people in June.

Families who lost children in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, where 21 young people died during a party to celebrate the end of exams, are asking President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene, saying he is the only one who can help them now. 

The families, backed by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), several civil society organisations and a legal team, have launched a petition demanding accountability for the systemic failures that contributed to the children’s deaths.  

Twenty-one young people, the youngest aged 13, died at the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London, on the night of 26 June. They had attended a “pens-down” party to celebrate the end of the June exams.

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

A preliminary report found that all the victims had methanol, a type of alcohol which is potentially deadly to humans, in their blood.

Follow-up tests were reportedly performed to determine if the methanol concentrations were fatal, but the results have not been made public. There is no clarity on where this report is and the police have yet to confirm whether they have it.

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. 

SACC statement

“The South African Council of Churches is now concerned that 139 days after the deaths of the 21 young people, justice has yet to be done,” said Professor Lulama Ntshingwa, the South African Council of Churches’ Eastern Cape president, in a statement.

“The families do not accept the results given as the cause of death which were delivered to them by the Department of Health on 1 September 2022. They also say they are unhappy with the quality of counselling given by the social workers who are deployed by the provincial Department of Social Development.

“The conflicting statements around the cause of death of the 21 children make the families very suspicious … they and survivors of the Enyobeni Tavern incident are also disappointed in what they see as a diminishing interest and concern from many interest groups, including some in the religious fraternity and in government structures. They feel abandoned in their quest to find answers and closure.

“Meanwhile, the tavern owners are still present in the community, apparently running their other businesses and allegedly opening Enyobeni from time to time,” the SACC statement reads.

A legal team has been established, comprising crime and civil litigation experts led by Lawyers for Human Rights and law firm MSZ Attorneys, who are working with the South African Human Rights Commission and the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance on preparations for leading evidence on behalf of the families.

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The legal team will, in conjunction with the families and other stakeholders, decide whether to initiate litigation to ensure that justice is done.

“As part of our formal statement to the South African public, as well as continental and international communities, we are making it clear that the Scenery Park 21 families, and the more than 50 known survivors, are not alone in their fight to find justice, but are receiving support from all over. To demonstrate this, a march is planned to take place from the City Hall in Oxford Street, East London, to the High Court in Fleet Street, starting at 08h00 on 25 November 2022, the day on which the court case against the tavern owners recommences,” said the SACC’s Ntshingwa.

Families and survivors as well as members of the SACC, the Buffalo City community, lawyers, doctors, politicians and civil society organisations have indicated that they will join the march.

“Join the appeal to the Eastern Cape government to handle this shameful disaster …  and to show the political will to engage openly and freely with churches who want to assist the families of the deceased and survivors to resist being bullied into accepting the status quo without question. 

“Support the call … for a full, independent inquiry into how the tragedy happened, focusing not only on the tavern owners — who must be held accountable for the deaths of the 21 and not just for contravening the Liquor Act — but also local, provincial and national government and their failure to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of our people by establishing an alcohol-safer South Africa,” the SACC statement continued.

The petition

South Africans are asked to sign the petition started by the family members and the Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance — find it here

The petition states: “We … want to know how it was that the children were there. There are multiple role-players that must answer for this unnecessary and avoidable loss of young lives — the SAPS, the Buffalo City Municipality, the Eastern Cape Liquor Board, the Eastern Cape Department of Economic Development, the Eastern Cape Provincial Executive Council and other provincial entities, the National Department of Trade, Industry and Competition which is responsible for the national Liquor Act and the long-awaited Liquor Amendment Bill, the National Department of Social Development which is responsible for the national Drug Master Plan and the Central Drug Authority, National Cabinet for not taking collective responsibility for ensuring that we live in an alcohol-safer country. 

“We cannot allow the government to, like Pontius Pilate, try to wash its hands of this whole affair and allow the tavern owners to take all the blame. We cannot allow the tavern owners to get away with minor charges and not face the consequences for the deaths that took place in their premises.

“There must be a full independent inquiry that results in a clear accounting of what happened, why it happened, and who is responsible. The outcome of such an inquiry must also chart a way forward that will ensure that such a tragedy never happens again. 

“That the 21 young people died in Enyobeni Tavern is terrible enough. That those responsible are not held accountable, and that concrete steps are not taken to ensure such a thing never happens again, would be unforgivable,” reads the statement.

Ramaphosa urged to open inquiry

One of the fathers who lost a child in the tragedy, Khululekile Ncandana, said the purpose was to urge President Cyril Ramaphosa to open an independent inquiry.

Ncandana said all the parents who had lost children in the tragedy supported and were involved in this petition. “We believe the President is the only person that can assist in our plea,”  he said.

The petition’s organisers are hoping to reach 1,000 signatures by Friday. The parents said so far, very little has happened to help them understand what happened and to get some kind of closure. They said they are trying to get all the survivors on board and to be part of next week’s march to court. 

Enyobeni Tavern manager Siyakhangela Ndevu and the owner, Vuyokazi Ndevu, are expected to appear in court for a pretrial conference on 25 November. Nobody has been criminally charged for the deaths of the young people. The pair face charges relating to the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18. DM/MC


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