Enyobeni Tavern tragedy has not changed the behaviour of local youngsters: Resident

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The tragic death of 21 people in Scenery Park, outside East London in the Eastern Cape, has done very little to change the behaviour among young people in the area.

Last week Sunday, South Africa woke up to shocking news of the passing of patrons at a local tavern, who included teenagers as young as 13, in the wee hours of the morning. 

However, while some might have expected the tragic incident to trigger a change in behaviour, Nolitha Ntsangane says nothing has changed, as young people still continue to flock to other places that sell liquor in the area and walk in the street visibly drunk, carrying bottles of alcohol in their hands. 

Ntsangane is not just a local resident, but a direct neighbour to the tavern of death and has been a witness to throngs of young people who always flocked to the liquor outlet and stayed there until the early hours of the morning, except that last week some of them didn’t make it out alive. 

“You see that weekend was this tragedy, neh, and then the Saturday, I was going to Amalinda, standing there at the bus stop. The very same age (sic) was drunk from somewhere else. That means they are not shocked. I was very, very worried. I looked at them, they were carrying the ciders as usual. They were drunk. It was blackout,” she laments. 

With the media contingency camped outside the tavern, basically just in front of Ntsangane’s yard too, in an area where yards are so small that at times the only thing that separates them is the wall of the house literally next door, she is carrying on with her laundry and some house chores. But she is kind enough to share her thoughts on what usually takes place at the tavern and the noise she says they are now used to.  

Inside the tavern, a weave can be seen on one of the tables, perhaps testament to the commotion that might have taken place on the fateful morning.

The tavern has been locked since the tragic incident, but looking through a broken back window, filth is conspicuous all over the place, with empty bottles of alcohol on some tables and broken bottles on the floor, with an incessant sound of a tap that is still running, coming from a dirty bathroom on the ground floor of the two-storey building.

Ntsangane says youth and adults in the area usually take turns camping at the premises, with adult patrons preferring to hang around the tavern during the day until the early evenings before they make way for the youth who usually start streaming around that time until the early hours of the morning. 

Pointing at the tavern to her far left, she says, “There are some adults here during the day but around 6 [pm], up to 7, they go out. I am sure they see that the youth are coming in now and they must go out.” 

Hours after the tragic incident, Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the area and indicated that those responsible would be held accountable. 

However, Ntsangane says, in her view, the tavern owner should not be the only person who faces the might of the law. She says the Liquor Board and law enforcement officials should also account. 

She says she was gobsmacked to hear a Liquor Board official say on TV that at the time they issued the license to the tavern the place had an exit door, which has since changed following renovations carried out by the tavern owner without the approval of the board. 

She says this cannot be true because the place has always had one door for both entry and exit. 

“This was always like this. It only has one gate here. You see all the sides, they are small. There is no way there were two gates here. It was only this one. We’ve got only one gate here. You don’t have another entrance somewhere. That was a lie. I was listening to that.” 

She has implied there could be some unholy relationship between the police, the Liquor Board, and the tavern owner. This, she says, stems from an incident in which community members complained to the police about the tavern situation and the harassment they were experiencing from the patrons, they heard from the tavern owner about the statements they had made. 

The mass funeral service of the 21 patrons will take place on Wednesday morning.

For the families, the process to say a final goodbye will start as early as 5am with the performing of traditional rituals at the funeral parlour.

Nineteen empty coffins will be transported to an open field in Scenery Park where the service will take place.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is also expected to attend.

The representative of the funeral parlour, Elaine Gogo, says an agreement about the process was reached with the families of the victims.

“As the family have also agreed that we must bring the coffins without their children. And then those who will be buried afterwards, after this service they will go via to our agency in Mdantsane and then collect their loved ones for a private burial.”