Maverick Citizen

ENYOBENI TRAGEDY

SAHRC liquor licence ban proposal — only 21 of 60 licence enforcement inspector posts filled

SAHRC liquor licence ban proposal — only 21 of 60 licence enforcement inspector posts filled
Alcohol being removed from Enyobeni Tavern in 2022. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board has one-third of the inspectors it needs to enforce liquor licence regulations, an Eastern Cape MEC has admitted. The admission comes as the South African Human Rights Commission on Thursday proposed a moratorium on liquor licences in the province until staff shortages have been addressed.

The Eastern Cape only has a third of the inspectors it needs to enforce liquor licence regulations, the Eastern Cape Provincial government has admitted. Yet the government granted more than 1,600 new licences for alcohol outlets in the past three years.

On Thursday, 25 April 2024, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recommended that a moratorium be placed on new liquor licences in the Eastern Cape until staff shortages in the Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) had been filled.

This issue was highlighted as a major contributing factor to the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy that occurred in Scenery Park in June 2022 when 21 young people, most underaged, died during a “pens down” party celebrating the start of the winter holidays.

In a response to a question asked by the Democratic Alliance’s Leander Kruger, the MEC for Economic Development in the province, Mlungisi Mvoko, said the Liquor Board does not have enough inspectors due to budgetary constraints.

Mvoko added that during the 2023/2024 financial year, the department allocated additional funding of R22-million but used only a part of the money to hire five more inspectors.

“To be efficiently effective in regulating liquor trading in the province and the increasing number of liquor outlets with all the challenges, both experienced and anticipated, there should at least be not less than 60 liquor enforcement officers to cover the entire province,” Mvoko said.

The ECLB currently has 21 liquor enforcement officers employed. In the past three years, the ECLB granted 1,689 new licences and inspectors identified 869 illegal shebeens.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Enyobeni Tragedy — SAHRC slams police, national departments for ‘systemic deficiencies’, urges liquor licence moratorium

Under current legislation, liquor inspectors can identify problems at liquor outlets but rely on councillors and law enforcement to implement by-laws, with municipalities playing a key role in approving liquor licences.

Mlungise Mvoko, Enyobeni funeral

MEC for Finance Mlungise Mvoko speaking at the Enyobeni funeral, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Mvoko said that the provincial government was training ward councillors on their role in considering liquor licence applications.

“The Eastern Cape Liquor Board has developed a programme to train the ward councillors in some municipalities throughout the province in their legislated roles in the consideration of liquor licence applications in their areas of jurisdiction. A total of 12 municipalities (including ward councillors, officials and ward committee members) were trained this financial year.”

He said that previously there was non-compliance by ward councillors to conduct community consultation meetings and submit reports on liquor licence applications, meaning some licences were approved without being properly considered.

“This results in the ECLB not complying with the legislated 60-day period within which a liquor licence application has to be considered. As a result [of the training], there has been vast improvement on this matter.”

When asked for a response to the understaffing claim during the SAHRC’s investigation, the chairperson of the ECLB, Mbuyi Makala, said the following: “In terms of the capacity we don’t have much capacity as [the] Eastern Cape Liquor Board because we currently only about 22 inspectors who are supposed to look at the whole of the province.”

A spokesperson for the ECLP, Dr Mgwebi Msiya, said their legal team was currently studying the report.

Cause of deaths still unknown

Almost two years after the Enyobeni tragedy, a definitive cause of death for the 21 deceased is still not known.

The owner of the tavern, Vuyokazi Ndevu, and her husband Siyakhangela were criminally convicted for selling alcohol to minors. They each received a R5,000 fine or the option to spend 100 days in prison.

“This underscores a critical connection between the events of June 25-26, 2022, and the broader landscape of harmful alcohol consumption in South Africa,” the SAHRC’s report found.

“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 report continues.

“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 added.

Enyobeni Tavern, liquor license

A worker packing up alcohol in Enyobeni Tavern, Eastern Cape to remove it from the building. (Photo: Hoseya Jubase)

Liquor Board neglect

The investigation by the SAHRC uncovered damning evidence of neglect on the side of the ECLB.

Since December 2021, about six months before the incident, residents reported increased noise levels from the tavern, a significant surge in the number of patrons; disregard for operating hours; instances of underage drinking both within and outside the tavern; incidents of public indecency, including urination and sexual conduct in public areas, driveways, and residents’ yards; damage to and theft of property by tavern patrons; and disposal of empty bottles into residents’ yards.

“Despite reporting these issues to the Scenery Park police station and the ECLB on numerous occasions, residents noted a lack of positive interventions,” read the SAHRC report.

“Significantly, the Commission was informed that in May 2022, SAPS officials conducted a door-to-door campaign, allowing residents near the tavern to submit affidavits detailing challenges they faced. Twenty affidavits, each representing a household, were submitted during this campaign. Allegations further arose that an ECLB official was present during this campaign.

“Following the door-to-door campaign, a meeting was convened at the Scenery Park police station, attended by concerned residents, SAPS officials, and an ECLB representative. The meeting focused on addressing challenges outlined in the affidavits against the Enyobeni Tavern. However, residents reported a lack of subsequent engagement or action from SAPS officials post-meeting, whether in the form of investigations or patrols in the affected area.”

‘No objections’ to Enyobeni licence

In answering a question from the SAHRC, the ECLB admitted that Ndevu had a valid registration certificate for the sale of liquor under the trading name of Enyobeni.

Two community consultation reports were received regarding its liquor licence application, one from the former ward councillor and one from the ward committee.

“No objections were received, and the application was supported,” the ECLB stated.

In 2021, the ECLB however received complaints that the tavern was not complying with Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

The ECLB said they did not have the competency to enforce the lockdown regulations and that their liquor inspectors could not legally enforce the regulations so the matter was referred to the police.

“It is impossible for the ECLB to fulfil its mission of mitigating the adverse effects of excessive alcohol consumption when it is so severely understaffed. For the ECLB enforcement officers to carry out their role and ensure that our communities are protected from alcohol abuse, they must be supported and their numbers boosted,” said the DA’s Kruger. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Leon Schipper says:

    “No objections were received”: was the liquor license application advertised, and was the community invited to make comments and objections? Or was the “public consultation” checkbox just ticked with little or no real such thing?

  • Thomas Cleghorn says:

    How is ‘definitive cause of death’ not yet known? Im pretty sure it was Carbon Monoxide from the Generator, but thats a guess. What are we waiting for? Is it in hand? *sigh*

  • Geoff Coles says:

    Is this not SAHRC meddling, however well intended.

  • William Dryden says:

    The ECLB has developed a programme to train ward councillors on their role in considering liquor licence applications.
    Why are we employing people who do not know their job and then spending money on training them, the mind boggles.

  • Just Me says:

    The problem with these tavern / shebeen shootings and killings is that it starts with enforcement of town planning by-laws, not just the enforcement of the liquor licence regulations. The town planning zoning and by-laws (scheme regulations) are there for a reason, to protect residential amenity and all that goes with that, including health, safety and security. You will find that the inspectors have no clue as to the state of town planning laws and regulations. Fix the issue at source – town planning and its enforcement.

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    When this tragic story broke a representative of the ECLB was interviewed. The representative of the ECLB complained of exactly the same problem at the time – that is a chronic lack of inspectors to perform the work. I stand to correction but I think they had about 20 inspectors at the time of tragedy.
    Here is the kicker to this interview. When the representative was asked how many taverns had been closed down in the Eastern Cape in that same year – there answer was NONE
    Please tell me how employing more inspectors is the answer? Why has no one at the ECLB being held to account because seemingly they are being paid to do nothing

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      You never been to a shebeen? I don’t know many with licences, but you will often find metro cops at these speak-easies sharing a free top or two.
      Personally, I think scrapping the liquor licensing boards, inspectors and assorted hangers-on would be the right thing to do. It will at least eliminate the bribery and corruption, plus save a whole bundle on enforcement. PLUS it will not noticeably increase the consumption of liquor – we already have a very high consumption rate.

  • Please guys help me on getting the certificate

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