Enyobeni owners fined for selling alcohol to a minor

Siyakhangela and wife Vuyokazi Ndevu were found guilty on Wednesday, of selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to persons under the age of 18 years. Photo by Chwayita Dinginto

The inquest into who is responsible for the deaths in June 2022 of 21 young people in Enyobeni Tavern, resumes on 29 February.

The parents of the 21 Enyobeni victims said they are disappointed by the court’s decision to only fine the tavern owners. Siyakhangela and his wife, Vuyokazi Ndevu were found guilty on Wednesday of selling or supplying intoxicating liquor to a minor.

The court found that the state had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt, that the couple were responsible for the sale of alcohol to underage children, and held them liable for the crime. They were sentenced on Friday to a R5,000 fine each or 100 days in prison.

The couple had pleaded not guilty, testifying in their defence and had applied for the withdrawal of the charges. However, the court agreed with state prosecutor, Thango Pangalela’s submission that there was no age restriction considered for access at Enyobeni. During the trial, the state had led evidence from nine witnesses including a neighbour of the Ndevu couple, a Liquor Board official and CCTV footage taken during the fateful night.

We understand that the case
is not about who is responsible
for the deaths but the court
should have considered the
tragic consequences of their
law breaking.

The parents of the 21 young people including minors who died, said they were expecting a maximum sentence. One mother, Ntombizonke Mgangala said, “To be honest, we are truly disappointed by the court’s decision. This is not about us, it is about the society, the underage children who are permitted to buy alcohol and those tavern owners who are selling alcohol to them. We were hoping the court would send a strong message that it is a serious crime to do so.” She said they understand that the case is not about probing who should be held responsible for the deaths but they expected the court to consider the merits and the tragic consequences of breaking even minor laws.

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“Emotions are very high at this point. We, however won’t let this lay us down; we will meet as parents and deliberate on a way forward; we will seek legal advice as to see what options we have,” she said. Mgangala said she was also not happy about the delays of the inquest.

Khululekile Ncandana, whose son Bongo died in the tavern, said he had also hoped the court would impose the maximum sentence while anticipating a fine would be handed down. “Because there was no evidence that the children were all sold alcohol and drank it at the tavern on that day, the magistrate during his judgement on Wednesday considered a case of one child who was evidently sold alcohol and drank it. For that reason I knew he was going to fine them.

“The state prosecutor tried his best to present to court that there is no other way the case can be viewed other than in light of the serious consequences, but the magistrate considered other factors. We will not go beyond what the court has decided on,” Ncandana said.

The Liquor Board acknowledged the sentence. The boards’ spokesperson, Dr Mgwebi Msiya said, “Whilst Eastern Cape Liquor Board would have hoped for a tougher sentence to be handed over to the Ndevu couple, it does accept the sentence as it is in line with the provisions of the Eastern Cape Liquor Act.”

National Prosecution Authority regional spokesperson, Luxolo Tyali said they welcome with disappointment the sentence. “We had submitted in court that the two are not remorseful, and they have total disregard of the law. However, because the act provides for the magistrate to impose a fine, we do accept with hopes that the upcoming inquest will be able to tell who should be held liable for the deaths of the 21 children,” said Tyali.

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The inquest is yet to resume on 29 February, after it was postponed to afford the state time to appoint a structural engineer and an expert to evaluate the postmortem results and toxicology report.

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