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Enyobeni Tavern owners each fined R5,000 for selling alcohol to a minor in wake of tragedy

Enyobeni Tavern owners each fined R5,000 for selling alcohol to a minor in wake of tragedy
Enyobeni Tavern manager and owner Vuyokazi Ndevu inside Mdantsane Magistrate Court on 11 September 2023 in East London. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The Enyobeni tragedy led to the deaths of 21 young people. On Friday, a magistrate fined each owner of Enyobeni Tavern R5,000, or ordered them to spend 100 days in prison, after finding them guilty of selling alcohol to a minor. The fine was labelled a slap on the wrist by some family members of the deceased who had gathered at the court.

The two Enyobeni Tavern bosses have been fined R5,000 each, or to spend 100 days in prison, after they were found guilty on just one count of selling liquor and conniving with employees to sell liquor to underage persons.

East London Magistrate, Kevin von Bratt, stated that the state presented a lot of circumstantial evidence and that only the testimony of then-17-year-old Sinemihlali Haka could be trusted for convicting tavern owners Vuyokazi and Siyakhangela Ndevu.

enyobeni inquest

Photographs of some of the young people who died in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy are displayed by relatives at an anniversary commemoration on 26 June 2023 at Scenery Park Community Hall, East London. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board brought the charges after 21 young people died at the Ndevu’s Scenery Park tavern, Enyobeni. 

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 couple had pleaded not guilty and took the witness stand in their defence. 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. To secure the conviction, Senior State Prosecutor Thango Pangalela led evidence of nine witnesses, including two minors who survived the tragic event. 

Haka testified that he drank at the tavern before the tragedy, and that the security personnel and owners did not attempt to verify his age.

An image of Enyobeni tavern with underage drinking in the spotlight

Investigating officers with the tavern owner Vuyokazi Ndevu at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park outside East London on 5 July 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Daily Maverick)

No apology

In August last year, an unremorseful Siyakhangela refused to apologise or sympathise with the parents of 21 young people who died at his tavern.

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

Delivering the judgment, Magistrate Von Bratt said: “Let me say that the extreme punishment on first offenders will be impossible. A fine will be appropriate.” 

He also said it would be difficult to imagine a scenario where the Ndevus would be issued with another liquor licence under the present circumstances. He added that having considered all the evidence and in the interest of the Scenery Park community, each of the accused is sentenced to a fine of R5,000 or 100 days in jail. 

Protesters call for justice outside East London Magistrate court, during the Enyobeni Tavern owners’ court appearance on 25 April 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Juabse).

‘Only a wrist slap’

Some parents broke down after the sentencing, as they said it felt like it was a slap on the wrist. 

“We were hoping for a maximum sentence (a fine not exceeding R1,000,000, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding five years),” said Khululekile Ncandana, the father of Bhongolethu Ncandana, who died at the tavern. 

“All the other parents are not happy with the sentencing. It is difficult for us to celebrate this. We are not happy.” 

The formal inquest into the deaths of 21 young people at the Enyobeni Tavern is still to commence at the Mdantsane Regional Court. Those who should be held criminally liable are due to be identified. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • J vN says:

    What kind of parent allows 13-year-old kids to be boozing it up in a tavern at 02h00 in the morning? The parents of the deceased should also be in the dock, next to the tavern owners. Much of SA’s problems can be traced back to poor parenting and irresponsible procreation, people having children they do not look after properly.

  • Bamdile Sithole says:

    Hello what’s up with them

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    People want to be able to break and ignore the law, then when the S hits the F, complain that they weren’t protected.

    South Africans – you have to choose a path: Obey the law, or don’t.

    Selecting either option has consequences of course, but I submit the former are beneficial, and the latter, not so much.

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