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‘It’s too late’ and ‘not genuine’ — victims’ families reject tavern owner’s ‘apology’

‘It’s too late’ and ‘not genuine’ — victims’ families reject tavern owner’s ‘apology’
Enyobeni Tavern owner Siyakhangela Ndevu in the East London Regional Court on 23 May 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

Siyakhangela Ndevu, whose apology has been a long time coming, said in court that he ‘sympathised’ with the families who lost 21 children at his tavern in 2022.

More than a year after the tragic Enyobeni Tavern incident in which 21 young children died, the tavern’s owner has apologised to the families. 

While testifying in the East London Regional Court on Wednesday, Siyakhangela Ndevu tendered an apology, but it came a little too late as the families longing for one rejected it. 

The apology came after his attorney, Precious Daniel, asked if he had anything to say to the families. 

“The manner in which they lost their children there [at Enyobeni] is painful,” he said. “It was not their will nor mine or the children’s that they died there. So I do apologise. I sympathise with them and their pain.” 

In August, an unremorseful Siyakhangela refused to apologise or sympathise with the parents of 21 young people who died at his tavern in Scenery Park, East London, in June 2022.

He said that even if he were found guilty, “I would be like Jesus dying for sins I know nothing of”. 

The victims, aged between 13 and 17, died during a “pens down” party to celebrate the end of the June exams.

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

“It’s too late,” said Khululekile Ncandana, the father of Bhongolethu Ncandana, who died at the tavern. 

Speaking on behalf of the other families, he added: “He knows he is in a tight corner, now he apologises. It’s not genuine. He was asked many times before why he could not show sympathy or apologise. No one asked that he plead guilty, but show humanity. Our children died there.” 

Ncandana said he hopes the Ndevu family will never be allowed to sell alcohol again. 

The families are still looking for answers as to what really happened on the fateful night. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: One year later, parents demand full autopsy reports for Enyobeni Tavern victims

Siyakhangela and his wife, Vuyokazi Ndevu, took the stand on Tuesday and Wednesday, charged with selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18 years, and responsibility for conniving with and permitting employees and agents to sell or deliver intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18 years. They have pleaded not guilty to both charges. 

Tensions were high in court as Siyakhangela said he never sold alcohol to underage children. He said the children forced their way into the tavern and that he tried calling the police. In a heated argument, prosecutor Thango Pangalela accused him of making witnesses lie in court. 

Enyobeni Tavern

The Enyobeni Tavern in East London on 23 May 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

The couple were shocked to learn in court that Sivuyile Gqamlana, one of the cashiers at the Enyobeni Tavern on the night of the tragedy, had already paid an admission-of-guilt fine of R2,000 for his role in the sale of liquor to underaged children. 

After the State closed its case, the defence applied for a discharge, according to Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act, but the prosecution successfully opposed that application.  

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 case was adjourned to 29 November 2023 when Gqamlana, the third defence witness, will continue giving evidence. 

Among the evidence led by the State so far is that of the couple’s neighbour, eyewitnesses who were at the establishment when the incident occurred, and CCTV footage from the establishment on 26 June 2023.

A pretrial conference for a formal inquest into the 21 deaths is set for Thursday in the Mdantsane Regional Court. 

The inquest is held to determine who is legally responsible for the deaths of the children. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fuad XXX says:

    “I would be like Jesus dying for sins I know nothing of” seriuosly, does he not know the buck stops at the owner? Firstly, want is the municipality doing about this? I remember obtaining municipal approval. Secondly what can be worse than your young child dying before you because of negligance.

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