Liquor board, police and municipality all complicit in Emoyeni deaths – EC Human Rights Commission

Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park where 21 teenagers died in June 2022. All photos by Chwayita Dinginto

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board is woefully understaffed yet has been unrestrained in issuing licenses.

Despite underage drinking being a deadly challenge in the Eastern Cape, the province’s liquor board has failed to enforce compliance due to severe staffing shortages, with nearly two-thirds of its enforcement inspector posts vacant.

The role of these inspectors include monitoring registered outlets, as well as conducting pre-registration inspections. They also have to follow-up returned applications, attend to complaints lodged and participate in joint blitz operations. However, as admitted by the Eastern Cape MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the board failed to adequately perform these because 65% of inspector position are vacant due to budgetary constraints.

16 inspectors to check on
7,500 taverns and bottle stores

Having issued 1,689 liquor licences from 2020 to 2023, the Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) had only a third of the 60 inspectors needed to enforce license compliance, and, as few as they were, they were able to find 358 establishments operating without valid liquor licences. At the time 21 young people tragically died at Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London about two years ago, the board had just 16 inspectors to check on the compliance of 7,500 taverns and bottle stores, with 5 being recently employed.

The Department of Basic Education has urged all youth to say no to Pens Down parties.

Liquor board blames ward councillors

The board cites the failure by ward councillors to perform their responsibilities as the cause of their own failure. “Non-compliance by ward councillors to perform their responsibility of conducting community consultation meetings and submitting reports thereof within the legislated 30-day period… results in the ECLB not complying with the legislated 60-day period within which a liquor licence application has to be considered. There has been vast improvement on this matter, since the implementation of a training programme on the role of ward councillors in municipalities around the province,” reads the board’s statement. The training programme developed by the board is on the consideration by ward councillors of liquor licence applications in their jurisdiction, which the board emphasises is a legislated role. The training has been of ward councillors and officials, and ward committee members in twelve municipalities.

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The board also blames its shortcomings on the growing trend of liquor licence applications to be for ‘on-and-off’ taverns, as it is a difficult category to monitor. The ‘on-and-off’ licence is open to elastic application and therefore, abuse, which advantages have led existing licence holders to convert their licence category.

The ECLB has been given one month to issue a report on how it will address the Human Rights Commission’s recommendations, which include a moratorium on issuing on-site licences, and enhancing community engagements. The BCM must also, within three months, establish a local drug action committee, and address the issue of recreational facilities and other issues.

Human Rights Commission report on Enyobeni tragedy

In a damning report issued by the Eastern Cape Human rights Commission recently, the commission gave the ECLB three months to address issues it found contributed to the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy. In its investigation, the commission found that the board persisted in issuing liquor licenses despite acknowledging severe human capital challenges, and knowing that it lacked the capacity to adequately monitor and enforce compliance. And in so doing, the commission also found that the ECLB deliberately neglected to protect vulnerable members of society against the illicit trade of alcohol and its associated harms.

In the report, the commission also criticises various stakeholders including the South African Police Services (SAPS). The Enyobeni Tavern tragedy revealed that the police failed to fulfil their duty to protect public safety and uphold relevant regulations, thereby contributing to a range of human rights violations. “SAPS’s inadequate response to reports of underage drinking and other violations at the tavern raises concerns about the thoroughness and effectiveness of its investigations, directly impacting the right to a safe and healthy environment, particularly for vulnerable individuals such as children,” says the commission. The report recommends that SAPS officials, particularly those stationed in areas with a high concentration of liquor outlets, should undergo specialised training on liquor regulations, enforcement procedures, and community engagement strategies.

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

The HRC investigation also found the provincial health department’s handling of the tragedy had resulted in violations of the dignity of the victims’ families. The department is blamed for the lack of clarity in information provided with regards to the cause of death of the 21 young people. “The initial reports suggesting methanol poisoning as the cause of death, later refuted, followed by the emergence of suffocation due to overcrowding as the purported cause, created confusion and distress among the affected families,” the report states. Inconsistent pathology reports exacerbated the trauma of the families of the victims and denied them the dignity of knowing the truth about the circumstances of their loved ones’ deaths.

Families of the young people who died at Enyobeni during the inquest which has been postponed to the 22nd of July.

The responsibility of Buffalo City Metro

The commission found that the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality (BCM) failed to fulfil its obligations of ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights, particularly in relation to zoning regulations, monitoring of liquor licence applications and the establishment of a local drug action committee. BCM said it will study the report and take appropriate actions. Spokesperson, Samkelo Ngwenya said, “The municipality is already engaging in a number of litigations and legal processes on the violations related to the transgressions of its by-laws at erf no 37300 in Scenery Park, by the tavern and its owners. The metro is still perusing the matter as per section article 25 of the act and this includes several contravention notices and orders that have been served to the owners,” Ngwenya said. BCM will pursue the matter to its final conclusion.

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