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Enyobeni Tavern tragedy aftermath — protesters demand taverns be shut down in central East London

Enyobeni Tavern tragedy aftermath — protesters demand taverns be shut down in central East London
Street patrollers led a march in East London’s city centre on Wednesday, calling for taverns to be shut down. (Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendriks)

‘We don’t want a repeat of Enyobeni’, say residents who claim young people are being lost to drink and drugs.

Street patrollers and members of community policing forums led a march on Wednesday calling for taverns in the East London city centre to be closed down.

More than 200 people from Duncan Village, Scenery Park and surrounding areas joined the march from Duncan Village to the city centre. Scenery Park is where the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy took place in 2022, when 21 people died.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Many questions still unanswered as Enyobeni tavern trial starts

The marchers were demanding that all taverns in California Street, the busiest street, close down. They also called for Minister of Police Beki Cele to step down.

Most businesses in the street are owned by immigrants.

Patrollers of the East London forum claim that the taverns sell alcohol and drugs to young people. But tavern owners deny this. They accuse the police of failing to arrest drug dealers.

Patrollers also said drugs are sold during the day and police take no action.

They said the matter was reported to Cele in 2017 and he promised to close the taverns but did not do so.

The marchers said if business owners did not close the taverns themselves, they would do so. One of the patrollers, Bongani Ngamntu, said, “What we don’t want is xenophobic attacks but at the same time we are not going to keep quiet while we see our children dying from drugs.”

Ngamntu, from Duncan Village, said at a community meeting in 2017 residents had asked Cele to intervene. “We told him that police are not patrolling in town. Mothers were sharing sad stories of losing their children to drugs. Cele was crying on that day. He promised to intervene. Until today nothing was done,” said Ngamntu.

“On weekends we find naked young girls lying here on the street high on drugs. Some won’t even remember what happened to their clothes. Others will tell us that they only remember being inside a tavern and don’t know how they ended up on the street. This gives us to conclude that they are being drugged while drinking. I have seen drugs being sold here in front of me during the day.”

“Police are aware of the dirty things that are happening in this street but nothing is done,” he said.

Community activist and policing forum member, Laduma Salman, said young people are dying in East London because of drugs and alcohol.

“Last year we lost young people who died inside a tavern in Scenery Park. Most of those children who died at Enyobeni were underage and were not supposed to be there. This tells you that there’s something wrong with tavern owners. We don’t want a repeat of Enyobeni,” said Salman.

He said the reason they decided to march is because police are not assisting them.

“I’m angry because by now we thought this would have been solved,” said Salman.

A woman told GroundUp how two of her sons are drug addicts. “I’m a vendor selling fruit, sweets and chips. When my son passed grade 12, I advised him to look for a job here in town. Little did I know that I was sending him to drugs. He is now at home losing his mind. The sad part is that he introduced the younger one [her so in grade 10] to drugs,” she said.

A memorandum was accepted by tavern owner Samuel Chinedu Okeke.

He said he understood the frustration of the marchers.

“In my tavern no one sells drugs,” said Okeke. “But the problem is people who are selling outside my tavern and on the street. I have reported them several times to police. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do if police are not arresting them.”

He said he and other business owners would work hand in hand with patrollers to fight drugs.

Buffalo City crime prevention head Colonel Jongisizwe Manyisana said he was aware of the issues raised by residents and patrollers. He said the whole metropole was affected. Manyisana promised residents police management would get back to them by 1 July. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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