ONE YEAR ON
Fearful Enyobeni Tavern survivors abandon memorial speeches
Survivors of the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy abandoned plans to speak at a memorial service on Monday for their friends who died in the tragedy, saying they feared for their lives.
A memorial service on Monday 26, June for the 21 young people who died at the Enyobeni Tavern a year ago was brought to a sudden end when the survivors who had been asked to speak were unable to do so.
The plan was that they would pay their respects to their friends who died in the tavern on 26 June 2022. The official cause of death was given as crush injuries and suffocation, but this has been disputed by family members.
Those who died were Sinako 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.
On Monday, members of the media were told to leave the hall where the memorial service was being held, as the survivors did not feel safe. But even in the absence of the media, they couldn’t deliver their tributes.
Ntombozonke Mgangala, the aunt of the late Sinothando Mgangala, said the community still didn’t feel safe as the tavern owners were “still roaming the streets”.
“Nothing has happened to [the tavern owners] related to the case. This makes the survivors fearful. They don’t know how [the tavern owners] managed not to be charged with the deaths of the children or why they are not behind bars. They are afraid and they do not feel safe.
“The survivors are afraid of speaking about what happened on that day at Enyobeni Tavern because they are not safe and to them what happened in Enyobeni is an underground thing that no one is supposed to talk about and if you speak about it, you will be in trouble.”
During the memorial service, the parents of those who died at the tavern cried bitterly. Some had to be escorted outside as they battled their emotions.
Another parent, Khululekile Ncandana, said he will never forget his son, Bhongolethu Ncandana.
“I will make sure that I will fight for him. I will make sure we [are] getting the answers, and am not going to rest until those responsible are brought to book,” he said.
Ncandana said the anniversary was important to show their children they had not forgotten them.
“This day is important to us. People must know that we didn’t forget our children. We will fight until the truth is evident and justice is done,” he said.
He said the community was unhappy that the tavern owners were not in prison.
Robbed of her only child
Neliswa Nzima (53) said she was robbed of her only child and today she is left alone in her shack. She said she had invested a lot of money to get her daughter a good education so that she could have a better future. She fell pregnant at the age of 36.
“But all that ended on 26 June 2022,” Nzima said.
“She was the only one. I sacrificed everything for her because she was the only child I have. I gave her the name Kungentando Nzima because I didn’t get her easily. When I was pregnant with her I had to be admitted to hospital because her heart was not beating. I was staying with this child and tried to shape her future, but now she is no more,” Nzima said.
“I cry every time I think of her.”
The parents emphasised that they still hadn’t been given a final cause of death for their children and that they were convinced the government was hiding something.
The trial of tavern owners Vuyokazi and Siyakhangela Ndevu, who have been charged only with selling liquor to minors, will continue on 19 and 20 July.
The 21 young people died at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London in the early hours of Sunday, 26 June 2022. The families were informed that they had died of suffocation and crush injuries. All the deceased had methanol in their blood, but the parents are still waiting for the outcome of a second forensic report that they were promised after tests to determine whether the levels of methanol were fatal.
Aadielah Maker Diedericks, the secretary-general of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance, said the government had not used the opportunity to signal its commitment to address alcohol consumption by children and teenagers.
This could have been done, she said, by Parliament passing the Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 which includes increasing the legal drinking age to 21.
She said there was a lack of a coherent and coordinated policy to protect children and young people from exposure to alcohol.
Alcohol harm reduction activist Maurice Smithers said the Enyobeni families were frustrated that there was no public statement on a definitive cause of death for the 21 young people.
“So far there has been no inquest. No criminal charges relating to the deaths of the children. Nobody has been held accountable,” he said.
He said apart from charges relating to the sale of alcohol to minors, the owners could also have been charged with a host of other transgressions, such as operating outside allowed hours.
“I think if there isn’t enough of a challenge, the Enyobeni case will just disappear,” he said. “The message must go out that this matters.” DM