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Some hope for parents of Enyobeni victims as statements and witness names finally filed in inquest

Some hope for parents of Enyobeni victims as statements and witness names finally filed in inquest
Enyobeni tavern manager Siyakhangela Ndevu (left) and his wife, tavern owner Vuyokazi Ndevu, inside Mdantsane Magistrates’ Court, East London, on 11 September 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The Enyobeni inquest is starting to take shape as three boxes of witness statement files and names were submitted in court. Although proceedings were postponed, the parents remain hopeful that they will get answers on what happened the day 21 teenagers died.

There’s a sense of hope among the parents of the 21 young people, aged between 13 and 17, who died at the Enyobeni tavern in Scenery Park, East London, last year that they will get a measure of closure.

This is after statements from witnesses were finally filed in court on Monday, 11 September, during the inquest held at the Mdantsane Magistrates’ Court in Mdantsane, East London. 

enyobeni inquest

From left, parents of teenagers killed in the tavern tragedy, Khululekile Ncandana and Jews Bolsiki carry documents with parent Xolile Malangeni outside Mdantsane Magistrates’ Court, East London, on 11 September 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The parents came to court with their lawyer carrying two boxes of files filled with statements from witnesses including from the parents. Monday was the second day of the inquest to determine whether anyone is legally responsible for the deaths. The 21 children died while attending a “pens down” party to celebrate the end of June exams. 

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

The hearing was moved from East London Magistrates’ Court to Mdantsane because of the limited space in the East London court.

After seeing the files, Magistrate Mvuselelo Malindi said the court would need time to go through the statements before any witnesses could be called to testify.

There were delays to the proceedings on Monday as the court first entertained a request from media houses to film the proceedings from inside the court. This was granted. 

The court was delayed further when the stenographer arrived late, only to discover the equipment was not working. 

“There were missing statements which were only filed today,” Malindi said. “To give everyone, including the court, time to go through the statements and witness names the case will therefore be postponed to 26 October.” 

Siyakhangela Ndevu, husband of the owner of the Enyobeni tavern and the tavern manager, said he remained unapologetic as his hands were clean.

“The State has been trying so hard without luck to prove that I was there when those kids arrived. I left before they got there and I got a call that the kids were forcing their way into the tavern and I returned,” he said on Monday.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I didn’t kill anyone,’ says tavern owner on first day of inquiry into deaths of 21 teens

He said he would bet his life that the inquest would not find him responsible for the deaths, or any charge for that matter. Daily Maverick was asking him why he did not show sympathy to the parents whose children died at his establishment when his lawyer advised him to stop speaking to the media.

Ndevu has maintained that he will not apologise for what happened at the tavern because he was not responsible.

Xolile Malangeni, whose daughter Esinako died at the tavern, said they believed justice would prevail.

“We have overcome one hurdle, which was to get statements, now on to the next. We will get our closure and we will know what happened to our children and the person responsible for the deaths will be revealed.” 

Ndevu and his wife, Vuyokazi, are being tried in a separate court for selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18 and being responsible for conniving with and permitting employees and agents to sell or deliver intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18. Those proceedings will be back in the East London Regional Court on 24-25 October to hear the case for the defence. They have pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Khululekile Ncandana, the father of Bhongolethu, who died at the tavern, said he was not surprised that Siyakhangela did not show any remorse.

“They [the Ndevus] have never even come to us and offered condolences when the incident happened,” he said.

“They have shown their arrogance and unremorsefulness when speaking to the media even here in court, but this inquest will give us closure when it’s decided if there is a person responsible for what happened.”

The tavern owners are witnesses and people of interest in the inquest. The inquest is inquisitorial, not accusatorial, but it could result in recommendations for potential prosecution. Witnesses, including experts, and the Ndevus are expected to give evidence.

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

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