ENYOBENI TAVERN TRIAL
East London shebeen where 21 people died ‘was serving children’, first witness tells court
‘I decided to stop going to that tavern after noticing that they had no respect and were serving children,’ witness testifies.
The first witness in the trial of the owners of the Enyobeni Tavern, where 21 people, mostly teenagers, died in June 2022, told the East London Magistrates’ Court that he became uncomfortable drinking at the establishment when he saw how many underaged people it was serving.
He said drunk teenage girls at the tavern would call him “baby”.
Mcedisi Kwinana (67), who lives in Scenery Park, East London, where the tavern was situated, opened the prosecution’s case against Enyobeni Tavern owner Vuyokazi Ndevu and her husband Siyakhangela Ndevu, who was the manager. Both pleaded not guilty to charges of selling liquor to minors.
What you need to know about the Enyobeni Tavern Trial:
Enyobeni Tavern owner and manager pleaded not guilty to charges of selling liquor to minors in relation to the tragic death of 21 teenagers on 26 June 2022.
The trial’s first witness testified in court on Tuesday, claiming the establishment served minors and made him uncomfortable drinking there.
A “final” postmortem report indicates that all the victims had fatal crush injuries and died of asphyxiation, according to forensic pathologists.
A preliminary report however discovered the presence of methanol in the blood of all Enyobeni Tavern victims. Follow-up tests were conducted to determine if the methanol concentrations were fatal, but the results have not been released to the public, and the police have yet to confirm whether they have it.
Twenty-one young people, the youngest aged 13, died at the Enyobeni Tavern in the early hours of 26 June 2022. They had attended a “pens-down” party to celebrate the end of the June exams.
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.
A postmortem report shared with parents said the victims had crush injuries and had suffocated.
A preliminary report found that all the victims had methanol, a type of alcohol, 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.
The Ndevus have not been charged in connection with any of the deaths.
Many of the dead teenagers’ parents arrived at court on Tuesday morning and said they wanted the trial completed as soon as possible. They are also keen for the start of the inquest to establish if anybody should be held legally responsible for the deaths of their children.
One of the parents, Khululekile Ncandana, said: “We want the truth about how it was possible for the owners of Enyobeni Tavern to sell the alcohol to children.”
The families, backed by the South African Council of Churches, several civil society organisations and a legal team, have also launched a petition demanding accountability for the systemic failures that contributed to the children’s deaths.
‘They were serving children’
Kwinana, who has been living in Scenery Park since 1992, testified that often people living close to Enyobeni Tavern were not able to sleep at night as the establishment closed its doors at about 4am. He said they had made several attempts to raise these concerns with the manager, the police, and the Liquor Board.
“I decided to stop going to that tavern after noticing that they had no respect and were serving children. When I discovered that my own children were visiting that tavern and were drinking there I said I can’t go there any more. It would be wrong to drink in the same tavern as your children. At the time, my children were 19 and 25 but I saw young children visiting there. I wasn’t sure of their ages,” he said.
“Those children were making a noise next to my window; I couldn’t sleep. Young girls were calling me ‘baby’ and that is how I decided to stop going there. I cannot drink with children.”
Kwinana said the tavern was often overcrowded and “dominated” by a group of young people. He added that some patrons sat and drank in their cars or in the tavern’s yard.
“Often they would even come on to the neighbours’ properties.”
Kwinana said that in the early morning hours of 26 June, he was at home when he heard people screaming.
“They were saying that the children were dying. I … saw children being carried out of the tavern and some being zipped up in body bags.”
He said that before the tragedy, residents had complained about the Enyobeni Tavern to the police and the Liquor Board.
Eastern Cape Liquor Board spokesperson Mgwebi Msiya said: “From what the witness said, they are happy now that the tavern is not operating and it is our wish that it must never operate again.”
The trial will continue on 23 May. DM/MC