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‘SOBERING’ REPORT

Enyobeni Tragedy — SAHRC slams police, national departments for ‘systemic deficiencies’, urges liquor licence moratorium

Enyobeni Tragedy — SAHRC slams police, national departments for ‘systemic deficiencies’, urges liquor licence moratorium
The Enyobeni Tavern a few days after the tragedy. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The South African Human Rights Commission has issued a scathing report on the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, blaming Parliament, the police and the departments of Social Development and Health for the aftermath of the incident that claimed the lives of 21 Scenery Park students in July 2022.

‘The Enyobeni tragedy serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to recalibrate regulatory frameworks and enforcement mechanisms to prioritise the protection of children’s rights,” the South African Human Rights Commission found in its investigative report on the tragedy. 

“While acknowledging the economic contributions of the liquor industry, it is imperative to reassess the societal costs and prioritise the well-being of vulnerable populations. The Commission calls for decisive action to address systemic deficiencies and safeguard the rights of all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable among us,” the report reads.

The Enyobeni tragedy occurred on 26 June 2022 when 21 young people died in mysterious circumstances at the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London.

The commissioners dedicated the report to those who died: Lithemba Velaphi, Mbulelo Rhangile, Inathi Nkani, Kungentando Nzima, Ovayo Mateyise, Bongolethu Ncandana, Anathi Ngqoza, Sinothando Mgangala, Simamkele Sobetwa, Aluncedo Monela, Simele Bolsiki, Esinako Sinarhana, Oyena Ngoloyi, Lungile Bekiso, Asamkele Thukuthe, Azizipho Zilindile, Inamandla Wexu, Lilitha Methuko, Sisanda Mahlahlaka, Sisekela Tshemese, Thembinkosi Silwane.

Enyobeni

Mourners at the mass symbolic funeral of teenagers who lost their lives in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy in Scenery Park outside East London on 6 July 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

The report, following an investigation initiated by the SAHRC, found there were “systemic deficiencies across multiple sectors, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to protect vulnerable populations and uphold human rights”.

Commissioners suggested a moratorium on all liquor licences in the province until sufficient monitoring capacity has been established within the Eastern Cape Liquor Board.

As the formal inquiry into the deaths of the 21 individuals unfolds, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy cannot be viewed in isolation but rather must be contextualised within the prevalent alcohol-related issues gripping South African society, the commissioners wrote.

The SAHRC has held several government departments responsible for the failures that led to the deaths, including the South African Police Service, the Buffalo City Metro and the Eastern Cape Liquor Board.

The commissioners also found that the uncertainty created by several statements about different causes of death, which were issued by the Eastern Cape health department, affected the dignity of the deceased.

“The Commission’s investigation unearthed systemic deficiencies across multiple sectors, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive reforms to protect vulnerable populations and uphold human rights,” reads the report titled “Enyobeni: A Sobering Account”.

The key findings include: 

  • There was inadequate enforcement of liquor regulations by the Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) and the SAPS;
  • The ECLB and the SAPS failed to address community complaints, as well as insufficient oversight by the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality; and
  • National departments such as Trade and Industry and Social Development neglected to prioritise crucial legislative measures aimed at curbing alcohol abuse.

Enyobeni Tavern manager and owner Vuyokazi Ndevu in the Mdantsane Magistrates’ Court in East London on 11 September 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Enyobeni

A group of young people from Scenery Park in East London outside the Enyobeni Tavern on 28 June 2022. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Pathology staff remove bodies from the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park (Photo: Supplied)

death tavern march

Young people, carrying placards with pictures of the victims, march to the Enyobeni Tavern on 29 June 2022 to release the souls of the 21 who died. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

There was insufficient oversight and capacity within the Buffalo City Metro to monitor compliance with zoning and building regulations, it said, and also cited “delayed and opaque processes within the Department of Health regarding investigation findings and inquest proceedings”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Enyobeni Tavern owners each fined R5,000 for selling alcohol to a minor in wake of tragedy

The commission also suggested enhanced internal capacity-building through tailored training programmes for ward councillors and metro police officials; engaging in community outreach to identify and address challenges posed by liquor outlets; prioritising the installation of recreational facilities; conducting audits to ensure compliance with liquor regulations and building standards; and urgently establishing local drug action committees within its jurisdiction to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

“The Commission confirms it did not and is not mandated to investigate the criminal liability in respect of this tragic occurrence. Without, however, delving into the forensic specifics of the fatalities, the Commission recognised the direct correlation between the events of that tragic evening and the systemic and pervasive culture of alcohol abuse within the country,” the report continues. DM

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