Families of 21 Scenery Park teenagers await answers

Empty burial coffins are laid out in front of mourners during a memorial service on Wednesday for the 21 teenagers who died in an East London tavern. Photos by Mandla Mnyakama

In a hasty public relations exercise the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality fixed the roads to the Scenery Park sports fields where the president addressed the mourners.

On the evening of June 26, in the under-developed township area of Scenery Park darkened by Eskom’s ongoing electricity loadshedding, a large group of local teenagers with others from the nearby Duncan Village and Nompumelelo informal settlement in Beacon Bay converged at the now infamous Enyobeni tavern to celebrate the end of the June school examinations. 

Twenty-one young people died in circumstances that remain unknown, the cause of their deaths a topic of speculation that has turned blame on the tavern owner for selling alcohol to youngsters.

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board said that they are combating the problem of underage drinking, it being a focus of their Alcohol Harm Reduction programme. Mgwebi Msiya, the spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Liqour Board said the programme targets township high schools and they had recently been to schools in Scenery Park and Duncan Village.

 “It is very sad because the incident unfortunately occurred whilst we were very busy with our campaigns on this serious matter,” said Msiya.

During the memorial service held at the Scenery Park sports field, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Police Minister Bheki Cele warned tavern owners that their businesses would be shut down if they fail to comply with the government’s liquor regulations.

“Alcohol should not be marketed to children and adolescents, and the relevant regulatory bodies must enforce this. We will continue to enforce regulations around alcohol being sold in large container sizes in a manner that encourages binge drinking. Provincial and national liquor authorities must increase enforcement by monitoring registered outlets and closing down unregistered ones,” said Ramaphosa.

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“Young people lost their lives at a tavern, a tavern where young people should not go. Children should not have been allowed at a place of adults,” he lamented.  

Addressing the mourners in the packed marquee tent, the police minister promised an imminent war. “You must come back mister president so we can all fight. No one will be spared, from the police to the licensing structures. Somebody, somewhere must answer. We will have to sit down with the local community and listen to some of the issues they have raised. There are a few things that ought to be answered. I will ensure that I return to find a solution about how in future we prevent incidents of this nature,” said Cele. 

Relatives of the 21 Enyobeni tavern victims carry the empty burial coffins out of the memorial service venue.

Some residents of Scenery Park say the delay by government authorities to make an arrest following the tragedy shows a lack of sympathy for the families of the young victims and denies them justice.

Vuyiswa Thethani (62), a mother of five from Scenery Park, wishes that serious action be taken to eliminate alcohol and drugs that continue to destroy the lives of youth in the area.

“My interest is to see the government providing us with greater opportunities to prosper in life than the endless promises they continue to make,” said Asanda Zulu, a 16-year-old Grade 12 learner from Kusile High School in Duncan Village.

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