Thapelo Lekabe

By Thapelo Lekabe

Senior Digital Journalist

Trial against Enyobeni tavern owners set to start in April next year

The couple has pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

The owners of the Enyobeni tavern in East London, where 21 youngsters tragically died in June, will go on trial on 25 April 2023 for allegedly selling alcohol to minors.

Enyobeni tavern tragedy

The registered licencee of the tavern in Scenery Park, Vuyokazi Ndevu, and her husband, Siyakwamkela, appeared briefly in the East London Magistrates’ Court on Friday.

They face charges for allegedly contravening the Liquor Act after the Eastern Cape Liquor Board laid a criminal complaint against them for selling alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years and instructing their staff to sell alcohol to minors.

The couple has pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.

During their brief court appearance, the families of the 21 youths who died at the tavern – including religious leaders and civil society – marched outside the court demanding justice for their children.

ALSO READ: Families of Enyobeni tavern victims lodge complaint with SAHRC

Five months ago, on 26 June 2022, nine girls and 12 boys died at Enyobeni tavern under mysterious circumstances during a party where free rounds of alcohol were allegedly offered.

After two months of investigations by authorities, the Eastern Cape Health Department revealed that the youngsters were either crushed or suffocated to death due to overcrowding inside the establishment, according to a final toxicology report.

Some of the parents of the 21 youths have rejected the findings of the report and are seeking answers on how their children died.

SAHRC complaint

Earlier this month, an alcohol policy group – the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) – approached the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) demanding accountability for the lives lost.

The SAAPA claims local authorities, the provincial liquor board, the South African Police Service (Saps) and the national Department of Trade, Industry and Competition need to be held accountable for the tragedy for failing to protect the rights of the children who died.

“We do believe that all three spheres of government should be looked at or examined just to explore what their level of accountability should be.

“Because the legal drinking age is 18 and we have seen the youngest victim in the Enyobeni tragedy is only about thirteen, so why was our law not being enforced,” said SAAPA’s spokesperson Terri-Liza Fortein.

Toxicology report case

Another leg of the Enyobeni tavern case, which relates to the release of the toxicology report concluded by health experts, was still under investigation by police.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) regional spokesperson, Luxolo Tyali, previously said the NPA would monitor this case closely and engage with police to ensure that the matter proceeds “swiftly and effectively”.

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