The Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities received a briefing yesterday from the Eastern Cape Provincial Government’s Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster (JCPS) and the Eastern Cape Liquor Board on the tragic death of 21 teenagers at Enyobeni tavern in Scenery Park in East London last week.

The stakeholders comprising the JCPS and present at the briefing include the South African Police Service; the Eastern Cape Liquor Board; the Eastern Cape’s Department of Transport, Community Safety and Liaison; and the departments of Education and of Social Development. The Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, which is also part of the JCPS and which was supposed to brief the committee, was not represented.

In welcoming the stakeholders and highlighting the purpose of the visit, the Chairperson of the committee, Ms Nonhlanhla Ncube-Ndaba, thanked the Eastern Cape Provincial Government’s MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison for making themselves available for the briefing and leading the JCPS.

She also rejected the negative comments allegedly made by the Deputy Mayor of the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality to the families of the deceased about the committee’s visit. Family members reported that the Deputy Mayor allegedly questioned the need and legitimacy of the committee’s visit with the families. This occurred after the committee arranged to get the families together to convey their condolences and discuss other issues relating to the tragic deaths of their children.

“The committee is driven by a constitutionally defined mandate and is accountable to the National Assembly, not to something else. We don’t convince everybody under the sun before we carry our mandate,” said Ms Ncube-Ndaba.

Briefing the committee, the MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison said part of the factors that contributed to the deaths of the 21 teenagers is the collapse of the family unit in our communities. The majority of the deceased were very young and should have been under tighter family control. She thanked the committee for visiting the families and engaging with the JCPS, as the visit will tighten the screws of safety to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

During the engagements, the committee heard that there are many unlicenced taverns and shebeens in the Buffalo City Metropolitan area and that the Eastern Cape Liquor Board has only two inspectors to enforce compliance with liquor business regulations. To mitigate the problem in the short term, the board’s CEO told the committee that they encourage tavern owners to form associations to assist the government in enforcing compliance with the regulations relating to the tavern industry.

The committee highlighted its concerns to the CEO and all the weaknesses that led to the tragic incident of the death of 21 teenagers. The committee visited Enyobeni tavern before the meeting, where it was briefed by the JCPS stakeholders and noted a number of problems at the tavern. It told the CEO of the board that the tavern’s licence should not have been renewed, given that it is not compliant with the conditions needed for a licence to be granted.

The committee told the CEO that the tavern has only one door, when it should have more doors for evacuation in the event of an emergency. It told the CEO that the tragedy could have been avoided had there been more escape doors. As it stands, the tavern is a dangerous death trap. The inspectors failed to do a physical inspection of the tavern before the licence was renewed and perhaps did desktop inspection, which is regrettable.

The committee heard that the provincial liquor act is going to be amended. All the identified weaknesses in the current act will be tightened.

The committee called on the Liquor Board to tighten its role in the business of taverns and shebeens. It told the CEO that taverns and shebeens should not be death traps to children. The committee heard that there is no national liquor act that applies to all the provinces, instead provinces have their own liquor acts. 

The committee has appealed to the MEC and the heads of the relevant government departments for lessons to be learnt from the tragedy to turn things around, especially on policies and regulations to avoid a recurrence of this tragedy in the future. It called for a review of all laws regulating liquor. The committee will check the Bill on liquor that was introduced in the National Assembly in 2018. The Bill contains, among other things, an age limit on the sale of liquor to children.

The committee welcomed the briefing from stakeholders, which it described as meaningful. The stakeholders who did not make presentations will submit written inputs to the committee.

Mava Lukani
6 July 2022