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One year later, parents demand full autopsy reports for Enyobeni Tavern victims

One year later, parents demand full autopsy reports for Enyobeni Tavern victims
Police tape outside Enyobeni Tavern in East London, Eastern Cape, on 28 June 2022 after the deaths of 21 teenagers. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

More than a year after 21 children died at the Enyobeni Tavern, parents are still seeking complete autopsy reports from the authorities. In court for selling alcohol to minors, the tavern owners say they did nothing wrong.

The parents of those who died at the Enyobeni Tavern in June 2022 will head to the SAPS forensic pathology services facility in Woodbrook, East London, on Monday to demand the release of the full autopsy reports into the deaths of their children. 

Twenty-one young people, aged between 13 and 17, died at the tavern in Scenery Park, East London, in the early hours of 26 June 2022. They were attending a “pens down” party to celebrate the end of the June exams.

A postmortem report shared with parents said the victims had injuries associated with being crushed and suffocated, but the results of a final toxicology report have not been made public.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fearful Enyobeni Tavern survivors abandon memorial speeches

A preliminary report found that the victims had methanol, a type of alcohol potentially deadly to humans, in their blood. Follow-up tests were reportedly performed to determine whether the methanol concentrations were fatal, but the results have not been released. The police have said they cannot divulge details of the follow-up tests, or even whether they’ve received the results, while investigations continue.

Methanol is sometimes found in counterfeit alcohol and home-brewed alcohol that has not been adequately monitored.

“When a person has died, the family gets the full autopsy report,” said Khululekile Ncandana, the father of Bhongolethu Ncandana, who died at the tavern.

“We have not received the full autopsy report and we want to know what happened to our children. On Monday, we are going to the forensics services to demand that report.”

On trial

Enyobeni tavern owner Vuyokazi Ndevu and her husband Siyakhangela, the tavern manager, are on trial at the East London Magistrates’ Court for selling liquor to underage children, but they do not face charges in relation to the deaths.

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board testified in court on Thursday about the responsibilities of the Enyobeni Tavern owners for keeping people under drinking age away from their establishment.

Senior licensing manager Pumlani Tyali said Vuyokazi Ndevu had been registered as the licence holder for more than 10 years.

As such, she was lawfully expected to know the Liquor Act and should be held fully liable for everything that happened at the tavern, even if she was absent when the deaths occurred.

The Liquor Board laid charges against the Ndevus after the deaths.

Many questions still unanswered as Enyobeni tavern trial starts

In the same court on Wednesday, the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality (BCMM) told the couple that the tavern had to be demolished. It hasn’t operated since the deaths.

BCMM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said the tavern structure was illegal.

“Following this tragic accident, the metro undertook an investigation into the operations of this business,” Ngwenya said. 

“It was found that there was no building plan approved and therefore the building was constructed illegally in contravention with section 4(1) of the National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act 103 of 1977.”

He further stated that the Directorate of Spatial Planning and Development still needed to receive an application or correspondence seeking permission for the zoning for the property to operate as a business.

“Based on these, the Municipality’s Legal Division is undertaking actions which include serving the transgressor with a notice to comply with BCMM Building  Standards and Regulations, [and] rectify the encroachment that occurred in the property.”

The Ndevus have been given 30 days to demolish the tavern. If they fail to do so, the municipality will seek a court order to carry out the demolition. 

Ncandana said that as parents, they do not support the move to demolish the tavern while the case against the Ndevus is ongoing as there could be a future court case involving the deaths of the children.

“I am happy with the proposed demolition, but not now,” he said.

“The demolition should happen when all the cases have been resolved. The case which deals with the death of our children has not even started. What will happen when experts are sent there to collect evidence that will assist with the case? The municipality must reconsider its decision.”

Daily Maverick visited the tavern on Thursday and found its doors open, but no one responded when called. Neighbours said a single person, who was not one of the owners, was living at the tavern.

Siyakhangela Ndevu said he would wait to act on the municipality’s instruction and would not demolish the tavern yet.

“No, I am not going to follow it right now. I am just going to let it go. I know those people, they were just in court to attract media attention. So, I will not respond to that, I will deal with that later.”

Speaking about the case of selling liquor to minors, Nedvu said he believed that the State had no case against him and his wife.

“I do not feel any pressure right now. Everything is still going smoothly for me. Those kids did not buy a single dumpy at my place. They came drunk with their alcohol.”

“I am not scared of going to jail because I did nothing wrong. I never sold alcohol to underage kids. I never allowed minors to come into my place and those kids arrived there in minibus taxis around 1am.”

He said he believed that when the children arrived at the tavern, no one was at the gate to check that they could enter.

Thembile Diko, who was manning the gate on the night the children died, testified that she abandoned her duties after many young children forced their way in. She said the children did not produce their identity documents when they entered the premises.

“I tried to demand IDs, but they swore at us and [told] us it was not our tavern. They would go to him [Siyakhangela Ndevu] and he would say we must let them in.”

The case was postponed until 24 August. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    What a shambles. Illegal structure, illegal entry, illegal liquor and still delayed legal action. Shows how impotent liquor licensing board is.

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