Pens Down party mayhem in East London

The rubbish left behind from Saturday's pens down party on the beachfront. Photo: Chwayito Dinginto

Despite the 21 deaths of youth two years ago in the Enyobeni Tavern, drunken pens down parties continue.

Hundreds of teenagers in East London converged on the beachfront this Saturday for a pens down party, despite warnings from authorities not to hold the party. The Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) last Wednesday issued a warning after receiving information of parties being organised for the Easter weekend targeting learners. “ECLB has received a tip-off from some of its learner ambassadors about a poster that is circulating on various social media platforms inviting learners from Buffalo City to attend a pool party that is going to be organised on 30th March at a B&B in East London.”

The board said the poster had requested potential attendees to bring a bottle of whiskey or gin as entry.  Spokesperson, Dr Mgwebi Msiya said, “We have been reliably informed that some learners were planning to gather at the Beach Front on Saturday. We will visit the B&B to discourage them from hosting the party.” 

Drunken bedlam

However, this did not stop the teenagers from gathering for the party. And it did live up to authorities’ fears. 15 teenagers were reportedly rushed to hospital for alcohol poisoning as paramedics attended to the inebriated partygoers, and police dispersed the partygoers still standing.

One teenager was stabbed to death, though police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu said it was in an incident unrelated to the party on the beachfront: “Police responded to a complaint at 04:50 on Sunday, of a person who had been stabbed to death near Munifin Building, A 16-year-old was found lying with a stab wound on his upper body.

“Deceased was with his friends near KFC drinking liquor when four unknown males appeared with knives and wanted to rob them of their liquor and cellphones.” Naidu said the teenagers tried to run away but the deceased was caught and stabbed to death. She urged parents to prevent their children from attending these parties because monitoring these events is not what police should be having to do. 

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Msiya said the liquor board had not received many reports from the community about liquor outlets selling alcohol to children – until the Enyobeni tavern tragedy. “It was only after the Enyobeni incident that we started to see communities reporting underage drinking. Where reports are received we then investigate; so far, we have two underage cases that have gone through the court of law such as Enyobeni tavern and Hofmeyr.”

The board launched an “Anti-Pens Down” campaign in various parts of the province, inviting schools to discourage learners from hosting end of examination celebrations. The liquor board also conducts unannounced blitz operations against liquor outlets. “These operations are conducted in conjunction with SAPS and often liquor outlets that are found to be non-compliant face actions,” he said. Msiya said the board is also working closely with churches and law enforcement agencies to address the issue. 

The board has established a toll free line (080 000 0420) to tackle the issue of underage drinking and a Whatsapp number (076 403 6233) to enable communities to report these cases.

The pall of Enyobeni 

Meanwhile, the father of Enyobeni victim, Xolile Malangeni, urged courts to do better by imposing harsher sentences on tavern owners selling alcohol to minors. “These taverns are portraying us as failing parents who care less about the wellbeing of our children. If government had not fined the Enyobeni owners R5,000 but imposed a harsher sentence, many outlets would have learnt a lesson,” said Malangeni. Parents are fighting a losing battling as these taverns have mushroomed everywhere in East London, he said. He was aware of regular operations by the liquor board, but did not think it enough. “After being caught these reckless owners only pay admission of guilt and the stock is handed back to them – how can they not continue selling? The reports filled with complaints are piling in these police stations and it ends there,” he said. 

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Young people have highlighted the lack of proper sport fields and recreational centres in the city as causes of underage drinking.

BCM spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said there have been interventions since the Enyobeni tragedy and they have worked closely on the anti-pens down campaign with the ECLB. A report tabled last year indicates that the metropole has 53 sport facilities under its care and was unable to meet the demand to mow the grass at these facilities. The employment of security guards to address vandalism has not been effected as proposed in the report.

Mayor Princess Faku publicly said she wants the municipality to take back all its facilities to ensure access to residents. Two public fields are under the control of a businessman, Siviwe Chippa Mpengesi, despite complaints he was overcharging for entry. 

The mayor’s spokesperson had not replied to questions regarding the state of sports facilities by the time of publication.

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