Enyobeni tavern owners insist they’re innocent as inquest stalls

On 26 June 2022, the bodies of the teenage victims, some as young as 13, lay on the floor and tables of the tavern in Scenery Park, East London. File photo by Mandla Mnyakama

Enyobeni tavern owner takes a swipe at the inquest into the cause of death of 21 teenagers in his establishment while the families feel frustrated by the delay.

Enyobeni tavern owner Siyakhangela Ndevu and his wife Vuyokazi, say the inquest into the deaths of 21 children who died at their establishment last year is a waste of time. Ndevu reiterated his innocence of the death of the minors and sees the inquest as a way to implicate him. “I see this inquest as a waste of time because if I had anything to do with the death of their children, I would have been in jail by now, I would have been charged. This inquest is by all means a way to have me implicated,” he said.

At Monday’s proceeding before magistrate Mvuselelo Malindi, the families of the victims packed the Mdantsane regional court only to hear that the inquest into the deaths of the 21 victims was postponed to next month to allow the judicial office and the attorney of the 21 families to prepare. The court heard that the state advocate Mathaise Kgatwe had not provided the attorney of the 21 families with copies of the docket and statements of witnesses. 

The aim of the formal inquest, according to the regional spokesperson of the National Prosecuting Authority, Luxolo Tyali, is to establish if anyone can be held criminally liable, by commission or omission, for the deaths. The 21 teenagers, of whom the youngest was 13, died at the infamous tavern as they celebrated the end of the June school examinations last year.

35 witnesses including experts and eye witnesses are expected to take stand. According to advocate Kgatwe, more witnesses may be called to testify. “Postponing the case was necessary as it will provide time for the court to go through the statements and determine if more witnesses are needed,” he said.

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Speaking outside the court, Ndevu said the children arrived at the tavern around 01h00 from the Pens Down celebration already intoxicated, and therefore cannot be held accountable for their death.
“What if those children drank a mixture which was poisonous and I am now expected to take responsibility for that. The state is not truthful and honest in this whole thing because they have stated poisonous consumed substance, and suffocation as the possible cause of their death. Suffocation is not the cause as some died in hospital. However, I also want to see the copy of that autopsy report; I know I am innocent,” Ndevu said.

The case against the Ndevus for selling liquor to persons under the age of 18 years, will be back in court on 24-25 October for the defence to make their case. They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Families not happy with postponement

Meanwhile, the families of the victims are not happy with the postponement. They describe it as a “delaying tactic”. “The postponement today was really not necessary. We don’t understand why the state prosecutor has not provided the documents to our attorney but managed to give them to the representative of the tavern owners,” said Ntombizonke Mngangala, the mother of one of the deceased teenagers, Sinovuyo.

The families hope the inquest into the death of their children will bring closure. Another parent, Xolile Malangeni said, “We are relying on this inquest to reveal the real cause of the death of our children.” Comparing the inquest to a second case of theft in which three youth were arrested for stealing from their children, he lamented that the tavern owner is still roaming free while being answerable for the much more serious charge of murder.

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Xolile Ncandana, parent to Bongo, said they want the tavern owner to answer for the death of their children. “We are happy that there is an inquest, hoping it will determine the actual cause of deaths of our children. We want to witness the arrogant and unremorseful owners of that tavern held accountable for their death” he said.

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