Complaints about tavern foretold Enyobeni deaths

In August 2022, residents protested outside East London magistrate's court calling for the owner of Enyobeni to be charged with murder. File photo by Masimanyane Women's Rights International

Police say that they are aware of complaints about the tavern made by members of the public before the tragedy.

Residents of Scenery Park allege that they complained to the police with no success about the activities that were taking place at Enyobeni tavern before the tragedy that claimed 21 lives in June.

Confirming that complaints about the tavern had indeed been received by the police, spokesperson, Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana said the complaints have featured in the investigation into the deaths. Kinana denied that the police were lenient towards the tavern owner: “The Scenery Park incident has been investigated to such an extent that the owner together with two other employees were arrested on charges relating to selling of liquor to children underage.”

It has been reported that the owner, Siyakhangela Owen Ndevu, appeared in the East London magistrate court on Friday. According to News24, Ndevu stands accused of violating the Liquor Act while parents and community members who were protesting outside court wanted him to be charged with murder. Residents of Scenery park claim that while they made many complaints about the tavern to the police, it took the death of 21 teenagers for them to be heard. The case was postponed to the 2nd of September for a pre-trial hearing.

No one as yet has been charged in connection with the deaths of the twelve girls and and nine boys at Enyobeni tavern. Families of the deceased are still waiting for postmortem results.

“The liquor license was approved in 2012, the tavern was completely compliant with the requirements of our legislation,” said Msiya Mgwebi, the Eastern Cape Liquor Board communications officer.

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Residents say that the tavern had been available to rent for parties and was a spot where elderly people went to drink, until Siyakhangela Ndevu took it over and renovated it. One of the survivors, a regular patron who lost two of his friends on that day, Hlumelokuhle Mbikweni, says he was there when the tavern was officially opened by Ndevu last year and recalls what happened the day of the incident.

“The security guards do not usually ask for our IDs and on that day they told us to get in without the payment fee at the door. Upon us getting in we received free drinks; afterwards when I went downstairs, the lights went off and immediately there were fumes of gas that were suffocating,” says the 20-year-old. He and his friends then went out of the tavern but went inside again to get more alcohol and the same thing happened again, but this time his friends were overcome by the fumes, and he managed to escape through a window.

Residents believe the reason teenagers are flocking to taverns is due to the lack of developmental activities and recreational facilities in the area. When asked to comment on the matter, local ward councillor, Monica Goci refused, saying she has talked about the matter more than enough and is now protecting her health.

The Buffalo City spokesperson, Sabelo Ngwenya, confirmed that there are no recreational facilities and developmental activities in Scenery Park at the moment. “We are going to go back and seek what the community needs, and let young people of Scenery Park tell us what they want,” he said.

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The Eastern Cape Liquor Board stated that they are working hard so that there is not a repeat of the Enyobeni tragedy.

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