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ENYOBENI TRAGEDY INQUEST

‘I didn’t kill anyone,’ says tavern owner on first day of inquiry into deaths of 21 teens

‘I didn’t kill anyone,’ says tavern owner on first day of inquiry into deaths of 21 teens
Enyobeni Tavern owner Siyakhangela Ndevu appears in the East London Magistrates’ Court on 19 August 2022. (Photo: Mark Andrews)

Siyakhangela Ndevu said that even if the inquest finds him responsible for the deaths, he would be getting punished for crimes he did not commit. ‘I would be like Jesus dying for sins I know nothing of,’ the tavern owner said.

An unremorseful Siyakhangela Ndevu has refused to apologise or sympathise with the parents of 21 young people who died at his Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London, in June 2022.

The 21 young people, aged between 13 and 17, died at the tavern while attending a “pens down” party to celebrate the end of the June exams last year.

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Parents of the teenagers who died and witnesses for the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy inquest gather outside the East London Regional Court on 31 August 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Thursday was the first day of an inquest to determine whether anyone is legally responsible for the deaths. It is being held at the East London Regional Court.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Parents hope for answers as inquest into deaths of 21 young people at an East London tavern is set to begin

“I am not going to apologise to anyone because I didn’t do anything,” Ndevu said outside the court.

“I didn’t kill anyone. Children didn’t start drinking in Enyobeni … in June some children were found near the ocean drunk here in East London.”

A handful of people came out to support Ndevu and his wife, Vuyokazi; the couple ran the tavern together. There were two-hour delays in the proceedings because of Eskom power cuts.

The inquest was adjourned to 11 September for the State to provide the docket contents to the court and the legal representatives of those involved in the inquest. It has been transferred to the Mdantsane Regional Court.

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Xolile Malangeni, a parent of one of the teens who died during the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, outside the East London Regional Court on 31 August 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Ntombizonke Mgangala, the aunt of Sinothando Mgangala (17), who died at the tavern, said while the delays were frustrating, the relatives of those who died had been looking forward to the start of the inquest.

“Our wish is to know what really happened on that fateful day,” Mgangala said. “The inquest will be able to give us that. We cannot wait for the 11th of September.”

The tavern owners are not suspects, but witnesses and people of interest. The inquest is inquisitorial, not accusatorial. Witnesses, including expert witnesses and the owners of Enyobeni Tavern, are expected to give evidence.

The evidence will then give direction on whether to charge the owners for the deaths of the 21 young people. 

‘Sins I know nothing of’

Ndevu said that even if the inquest found him responsible for the deaths, he would be getting punished for crimes he did not commit.

“I would be like Jesus dying for sins I know nothing of.” 

He maintained that no underage persons were sold alcohol at his premises, and said the CCTV footage viewed in court last week did not show any underage persons.

The Ndevus are on trial for selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18. The matter will be back in court on 24 October.

“My only sin is for them to forcefully enter my gate without my permission and get inside the tavern, that is why I am here. I didn’t kill anyone, they forced their way to get inside the tavern,” he said.

“This whole case is negatively affecting me. My business has stopped there. I have invested a lot of money in that business. I opened that business on 27 November 2021, but within seven months, boom, it was closed — then how can I be okay?

“I have invested around R500,000 in renovations of that tavern. I lost a lot of money because those kids forcefully entered my tavern and died there. I didn’t kill any children.”

Meanwhile, the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality’s spokesperson, Samkelo Ngwenya, confirmed to Daily Maverick that a 30-day notice given to the Enyobeni Tavern owners to rectify the contravention of a building regulation at the property had lapsed.

The municipality found that the tavern did not comply with its building standards and regulations. The owners were given 30 days to rectify this or the municipality would approach the court for an order to demolish the tavern.

The next stage was an inspection to determine whether the owners had complied with the notice, said Ngwenya.

“Thereafter, we will approach the courts to seek a demolition order. This is provided that there is no interdiction or challenge lodged by the owner.”

The tavern has been closed since the deaths. DM

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