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By Sydney Majoko


The Enyobeni cover-up is not unique or new

Right now, all signs point to the fact that the lives lost and families affected do not matter because they’re poor.

In the week of former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev’s death, the SA government tellingly has chosen to make it so difficult for the people of the Eastern Cape to put their trust in government processes and openness.

Gorbachev introduced glasnost to the Soviet Union and preached that it was openness that led people to trust their rulers – the same openness and freedom of information that Nelson Mandela preached.

Both men must be turning in their graves at the Eastern Cape government’s decision that parents who lost their children in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy will not be provided with the cause of death because of “legal processes”.

The deaths of the 21 children at the tavern cannot be reduced to a tragedy that only affected “loved ones and their families” – it was a national tragedy. That is why the whole nation was shocked and in an uproar: it is a tragedy that could have happened anywhere in South Africa, especially in economically poor neighbourhoods.

ALSO READ: Government needs to make Enyobeni Tavern a priority to give grieving parents closure

Maybe the treatment that the family and community is receiving shouldn’t shock anyone because it has become increasing common to treat poor and voiceless communities like they do not matter. This is not the first incident where the authorities have chosen to hide behind some obscure legal processes in order to deny poor communities the truth.

The much-publicised and commemorated Marikana mining massacre still hasn’t brought any closure to the families of the victims of those who died 10 years ago.

South Africa has progressively become antipoor under the rule of a governing party that has always branded itself as the voice of the poor and voiceless. It has become even worse as the world’s economic system has heaped burden upon burden on the most economically disadvantaged.

Take the total collapse of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) network countrywide. It is the poorest of the poor communities that were heavily reliant on trains for transport. Although they had grown unsafe over the years due to neglect by the government, they remained the most affordable mode of transport for many communities who were part of the network.

And then Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and his department slept on the job as thieves literally stole hundreds of kilometres of rail during the Covid lockdown – only for poor South Africans to wake up to no state-subsidised transport after the shutdown.

They had to resort to taxis – an industry that is known to be a law unto itself. And because poor people have no choice they must use those taxis, however expensive or unsafe. Because their government has left them to the mercy of an industry that has been shown to bully anyone it wishes to.

ALSO READ: Enyobeni Tavern: Parents threaten shutdown if not given post-mortem results

So, the Enyobeni cover-up is not unique or new. Yes, cover-up, because if it was not a cover-up the government would approach the matter in an open fashion. It is a cover-up because the magnitude of the tragedy dictates that no stone should be left unturned in reassuring the community and the nation that whatever led to the loss of those 21 young lives must be made known, so that there is no repeat of the tragedy anywhere else in SA.

Most importantly though, the community would be reassured that there is no big, rich or powerful individual or entity that the government is protecting through the cover-up. Right now, all signs point to the fact that the lives lost and families affected do not matter because they’re poor.

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