Families of 21 teens who died at Enyobeni want tavern owner stopped from operating his other pubs

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It's business as usual for the Enyobeni tavern owner.
It's business as usual for the Enyobeni tavern owner.
Gallo Images/Reuters

It was one of the shocking stories this year – 21 underage teenagers died at an East London tavern in June this year and the toxicology report suggests they suffocated due to overcrowding.

Six months after the mass funeral for the teenagers, their families are still finding it hard to cope with their loss and still seeking justice.

They have been getting psycho-social support and, recently, they marched to the Human Rights Commission demanding that it look into liquor licence policies, especially for the owner of the Enyobeni tavern, Siyakwamkela Ndevu.

Ndevu and his wife, Vuyokazi, appeared in court recently, and their case was postponed to 25 April for trial.

The couple is accused of two offences of selling or providing inebriating alcohol to people younger than 18 years, and scheming with and allowing workers and specialists to sell or convey inebriating alcohol to people younger than 18 years.

They pleaded not guilty on both charges. The police are still conducting a prosecutor-led investigation into another part of the case, which concerns the death of 21 people.

Ntombizonke Mgangala an aunt of one the teens who died on the scene, Nothando Mgangala (17), tells Drum that seeing the owner of the tavern operating his alcohol business regardless of the case is insensitive to their grieving because they are still hurt and coming to terms with the loss of their children in such a tragic manner.

Read more | Enyobeni tavern owner appears in court

“We are still not happy," Ntombizonke tells Drum.

"We have a lot of unanswered questions concerning the matter. The owner of the tavern where our children died is still outside doing his business as usual. He only closed the Enyobeni tavern at Scenery Park, but he has other taverns in the area that are operating.

"So that on its own is telling us that our South African law is failing us. We [can't] believe that the same person who didn’t comply with the liquor laws to such an extent that he sold alcohol to underage kids, not considering the restricted age, is still making money by selling alcohol. If they took his licence, he shouldn’t be operating anywhere.”

Ntombizonke who is also the organiser of marches concerning this matter says their wish was for the tavern owners to not operate anywhere in the country until the matter is resolved.

"At the present moment, he has only been charged for only selling alcohol to underage children and also breaking liquor laws. In terms of our children who died in the tavern, there is no charge for that," she says.

“Someone needs to be charged for the death of our children in that tavern, that is still our query. We are not happy about the results that were issued regarding the toxicology reported that was issued, and we voiced that out to the relevant department and there is nothing has been done.

"I would rather say we do not know what led to the death of our children at Enyobeni. The results that they have given us say the cause of death is suffocation, at the beginning suffocation was ruled out,” she says.

“We acknowledge that when our children are out of their homes they are out of our hands, and we all know that. As the parents who got children who died at Enyobeni, our wish is that we get together and help each other in this period so that we can be able to stop this.

"If I am an owner of a tavern, I should also bear in mind that I am also a parent and therefore shouldn’t sell alcohol to the children because some rules and regulations need to be followed.”

Read more | ‘We don’t know what killed your kids’ – authorities on tragic deaths of ECape teenagers at a tavern

She says they will be celebrating the festive holidays with sore hearts because they are still fighting for justice even though they are offered support, they would’ve loved to celebrate Christmas with their kids as much as the owner of the tavern will celebrate with his family.

“South African Council of Churches is offering psycho-social support to us as parents they are also giving us moral support together with Southern African Alcohol Policy Association and we have lawyers with Human Rights and Magqabi Attorneys who are assisting us in terms of the case. But we are disgruntled because 21 kids died in his tavern, there was no shooting or fighting they were served alcohol and they died the year is over and we don’t know what led to their death,” she says.

NPA spokesperson Luxolo Tyali says the NPA views the case in a very serious light and has assigned senior prosecutors to guide the investigations as mandated by the constitution, to ensure that the evidence needed to bring those criminally liable for the tragedy are prosecuted and face the full might of the law.

“The families of the young children, some under-age, the affected community, and South Africans at large are anxious to see justice served for their children who died in such tragic circumstances.

"The NPA is committed to a victim-centered approach that prioritises justice for crimes committed against the most vulnerable in our society, especially women and children. The memorandum of demands from the concerned families has been accepted by the prosecution with the commitment that, as per the NPA mission, will be pursued without fear, favour, or prejudice.”

The couple will appear again in court on 25 April 2023 for trial.

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