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By Malibongwe Dayimani

Premium Journalist

Enyobeni tavern owners found guilty of selling liquor to children

Eighteen of the 21 deceased children were under the age of 18 years.

The controversial owners of the infamous Enyobeni tavern, where 21 children died in June 2022, have been found guilty of selling or supplying liquor to persons under the age of 18.

The married pair, Sikhangela Owen Ndevu, 54, and Vuyokazi, 45, acted in violation of the Liquor Act, East London Regional Court magistrate Kevi von Brett found on Wednesday.

Guilty beyond reasonable doubt

Van Brett found that the state had proven its case beyond reasonable doubt that the couple were responsible for the sale of alcohol to under-aged children, and held them vicariously liable for the crime.

READ: Enyobeni tavern: Scenery Park community commemorate victims a year later

Twelve girls and nine boys suffocated or were crushed to death during a party at the tavern on 26 June 2022.

The court only dealt with the sale of liquor.

Formal inquest for Enyobeni tavern

The troubled couple still has to answer for the deaths of the children during a formal inquest at the Mdantsane Regional Court.

The date for the sitting of the inquest is yet to be announced.

The tavern tragedy horrified the nation and sent shockwaves across the world, triggering a media frenzy.

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board opened the case against the Ndevus and revoked the tavern’s liquor licence after it found that 18 of the 21 deceased were under the age of 18 years.

READ: Enyobeni Tavern tragedy: Families lodged complaint with SAHRC

The couple had pleaded not guilty and took to the witness stand in their defence.

Application for discharge dismissed

After the state closed its case in August, the defence applied for a discharge in line to Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act, but the prosecution successfully opposed that application.

To secure the conviction, Senior State Prosecutor Thango Pangalela, led evidence of nine witnesses, including two minors who survived the tragic event.

The court upheld Phangalele’s submission that there was no age restriction considered for access at Enyobeni and the owners failed to take reasonable steps to ensure age restriction admission.

George Khwinana, who stays near the pair’s establishment, previously testified that countless complaints to the pair about the tavern being a menace to society fell on deaf ears.

READ: Enyobeni Tavern owners’ application for dismissal of charges denied

Patrons had loud sex

Khwinana told the court that young patrons of the tavern caused a ruckus and violent fights outside the homes neighbouring the night spot.

He also revealed that youngsters would trespass into his premises and have sex on his grounds while he was in bed.   

Another witness Nalo Mtizana, 23, told the magistrate, Kevin von Bratt, on 24 May that Ndevu stood in the queue for alcohol alongside her, and even flirted with her at his own tavern. 

She said they even took a selfie together and later watched as children dropped dead.

The Enyobeni Parents Action Committee, a group of parents of the deceased children, has welcomed the verdict.

Khululekile Ncanda, father of Bongo Ncandana who perished on that night, said: “This is an encouraging outcome. For a long time, we have had the strong belief that the pair sold liquor to minors. We are vindicated. They had failed to take responsibility as the owners of the tavern or to protect the patrons under their roof.”

The case will be back in court on Friday, 23 February 2024, for arguments in aggravation and mitigation of sentence.

READ NOW: State closes case against Enyobeni Tavern couple

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