All right my friends, it’s been a while since we did a South African case even though we have a big chunk of listeners in South Africa, so I’m here to fix that. We are actually going to mix it up a little today and talk about a case that is super fresh and actively unfolding because I think it needs more attention and I wouldn’t have even known about it without one of our listeners DMing us about it. We’re recording about a week before the episode will drop, so if more information has come out before now and then I will include any updates with the Instagram post and I would encourage you all to comment on the post for this episode if you want to talk about it more.
In fact, we actually posted a small snippet about it on Instagram a couple weeks ago. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then a friendly reminder/shameless plug that despite the fact that I am not a savvy social media poster, we do in fact have an Instagram. It is just our name, Sleuth be Told, and we post updates on there, sometimes on our stories you can get a little peek at the behind the scenes when we’re recording or at the cats, and there are even opportunities to participate in our picking out the particulars segment with us among other things. So make sure you’re following us on there so you don’t miss anything and so that you can be involved in our little community!
Anywho, back to the case. One of our listeners made us aware of 21 teenagers in East London, South Africa that died at the Enyobeni Tavern under mysterious circumstances on June 25th. So what are these mysterious circumstances you ask? Well for one, a cause of death was not immediately clear as there weren’t any outward signs of injury or anything like that. Let me give you some background and then we’ll get all up in the rest of those mysterious circumstances.
Enyobeni Tavern has been open since at least 2012 according to their Facebook page and when they received their liquor license. I couldn’t find much else about its history and whatnot, but I did see in one article from BBC that they had received some complaints over the years about the late opening hours and noise levels. An article from the New York Times also said that there had been complaints from people whose private homes share a wall with the tavern. According to this article, the tavern has “long divided this community.” They go on to explain that neighbors had complained about urine stains on the wall, empty bottles being strewn outside, parties going on until 8 in the morning, and even “children vomiting in their gardens.” There were also several neighbors who said they met with police and an inspector of the Eastern Cape Liquor Board three weeks before the tragedy, but when asked about it both said they had no record of complaints about the tavern.
The tavern was two stories, but the liquor board actually didn’t know that because the second floor was a more recent addition and didn’t exist when the license was originally granted. I’m not sure what exactly they have to disclose in order to maintain their license, but the fact that this was pointed out leads me to assume that they were most likely supposed to provide that information and get some sort of update to the license which they obviously didn’t do. It’s also going to be important to know that the tavern only has one entrance, a single metal door painted brown.
The tavern was the place to be on Saturday, June 25th. They had made a promotional post on their Facebook page that ended with the word, “kuzofiwa.” This word, in a party context, is slang for “it’s going to be a great time.” So it makes sense that they would put this on the promo, right? Well apparently, despite this being the slang interpretation, its literal translation is actually, “there is going to be death.” Now, maybe this is reading too much into it, but I think it’s pretty ominous and some foreshadowing whether intentional or not.
So if you remember, I said it was 21 teenagers that died and we’ve been talking about a tavern (bar). How did all these teenagers end up dead in a bar if the drinking age is 18? Well, like I mentioned before, there weren’t any open complaints about the tavern serving alcohol to people underage, but with the number of teenagers there that night I have a feeling it was happening regularly. Mid-year exams had just ended, so everyone was out celebrating for the weekend and the tavern had advertised a party with free alcohol and wifi to celebrate the end of the term. And the ad worked. Everyone flocked to the tavern to take advantage of the free alcohol and while there were bouncers they were either very dumb or didn’t care about whether the people entering were of age or not.
All the people wanted to be at the party and while it was set to end at midnight, that time rolled around and there were still dozens of people trying to get in. At 12:30, the tavern went dark. No one flinched though, because I guess blackouts are a regular thing in South Africa. Minutes later, the flashing disco lights returned and a gas wafted through the ground floor. Some have said it smelled like pepper spray and others have said it was more like tear gas. Everyone inside was rushing to the door to get out, while everyone outside in the cold (because it’s winter in South Africa) was still trying to get in, unaware of what was happening inside. At this point, bouncers pulled the door shut, trapping those who were inside in the tavern and those who were out in the cold couldn’t get in anymore. On the second floor, dance music was still going, but those on the ground floor were climbing over each other trying to get out. They ended up breaking the two windows in the tavern since the bouncers wouldn’t let them out the only door.
Brian Mapasa, a rapper who survived the event, said that when he finished his set on the second floor he could hear gasping all around him. He was trying to leave after his set and as he made his way downstairs was when the doors were being shut. The building was stuffed with people and everyone was pressed so tightly against each other that he said his legs went numb. He was also bit by two people as they tried to climb over him. He said that the music only stopped when screams started to pierce through the “pandemonium.”
By this point, people had even started to jump from the second floor. The bouncers finally opened the door again, but only so that they could carry some of the bodies outside.
Nolitha Qhekaza, a woman whose bedroom window is a few feet from the tavern’s entrance, had people landing on her roof as they jumped from the balcony. She also had dead and wounded teenagers laid on her front lawn. She even had a girl with a broken leg lay on her dining room floor until after 7 a.m. With all of this happening, she called the police 10 times, between 2:25 and 3:35 am, but help didn’t even begin to arrive until 4 a.m.
Over the next few hours, after police had cordoned off the area, parents were trying to push through the tape. Pictures of the scene had started circulating around social media and that’s how some of the parents didn’t just find out that their kids had gone out that night, but that they had died. One of the parents, Sidwenn Rangile, the father of Mbulelo Rangile, who was a goalie for a soccer team that had all been at the tavern, found out because his son was trending. He went to local hospitals looking for his son and when he couldn’t find him, went to the morgue. He didn’t even recognize his son’s body at first and I’m just imagining myself in that situation and that isn’t something that anyone should ever have to go through.
The question everyone wants answered is how and why did this happen. Unfortunately, there isn’t really an answer at this point. Some have speculated that it was a carbon monoxide leak, but while that could explain some of what survivors explained, it doesn’t completely fit. Carbon monoxide has no odor so if it was that it would make sense that it wasn’t noticed until people started dropping, but we have the accounts of people saying it smelt like pepper spray or tear gas which doesn’t add up. Then you have the fact that there are no outward signs of injury. At first, assumptions were made that people had been trampled and that’s what caused the deaths. But this isn’t the case as there are no signs of this. If it was some sort of widespread pepper spray, I would imagine people would be red around their orifices, but according to my research this wasn’t the case either. It just doesn’t add up. I also find it strange that of those that were at the tavern, everyone that died was between the ages of 13 and 17. While there were definitely a lot of underage kids in there, there were still adults and for none of them to have died? Weird if you ask me.
Unfortunately for now, all we can really do is speculate, but hopefully there will be more answers soon. And in case you are wondering about the repercussions for the tavern I do have some information about that for you. The liquor board has filed a criminal case against the woman whose name the liquor license is in. Her name is Vuyokazi Ndevu and the case they filed is for selling alcohol to minors. Police haven’t yet said whether they will press charges, but the liquor license has been revoked. The punishment for selling alcohol to minors in South Africa is up to 5 years in prison or 1,000,000R (rand) which is equivalent to about $60,000 USD.
In researching this case, I saw a lot of material about how underage drinking is a big problem in South Africa and a lot of people are hoping that this case and the light it shed on this issue will encourage people to do something about it. To put it into perspective, about 50% of South African teens drink alcohol. Now, I saw that and definitely thought it was a lot, but was also like ok, I know a lot of underage drinking happens in the US too so I looked up our stats to see if it was similar. Despite the fact that I feel like everyone I knew in high school was drinking, it’s actually only about 16% of individuals aged 12-20 in the US. Of course that’s only if those answering are being honest, but that goes for the stats in South Africa too, so if I thought a lot of underage drinking happened here, it’s not even half of the amount that happens in South Africa. And that’s with their legal drinking age being 18, so do with that what you will.
The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, made a statement about how South African officials must increase steps to prevent alcohol from being illegally sold to minors, so it seems like maybe change could start happening, but for now those numbers show no sign of dropping. The SA Government has proposed a number of pieces of legislation aimed at reducing this number. These include banning the advertising of alcohol, raising the legal drinking age, limiting hours for alcohol sales, and lowering the legal maximum alcohol limit for drivers. However, to date no legislation in these areas has actually been enacted by Parliament. As horrible as this tragedy is, maybe something good could come of it and this issue getting more attention.
Before we end the episode I want to take a moment to tell you about each of the teenagers who died on June 25th. President Ramaphosa gave a eulogy at the mass funeral that was held for them and listed off each individual’s name and something about them, so I’ll be reading from that. I’m going to do my best with the names and hopefully I don’t butcher them, but I think it would be a disservice to them not to tell you all of their names.
“Lithemba Velapi was looking forward to studying Tourism Management at Buffalo City College. He was 20 years old.
Kungentando Nzima was in Grade 12 at Alphandale Senior Secondary School and loved mathematics.
Yesterday Lilitha Methuko would have celebrated her 17th birthday, and she told her mother she was planning to buy two cakes to celebrate.
Lungile Bekiso from Scenery Park would have turned 17 in November and liked playing soccer with his friends.
Ovayo Mateyise attended Lumko High School where he loved soccer and watching rugby on tv. Yesterday would have been his 15th birthday.
Inamandla Wexu was a brilliant learner. When his family asked him how his recent exams had gone, he said: “You know I never fail.”
Oyena Ngoloyi was buried by her family in Middledrift yesterday. She was popular at school.
One of her friends wrote on her Facebook page: “Lala ngoxolo mntase. Greet those in the house who have left us, and please be our star when we go out at night.”
Sikelela Tshemese was 15 years old. He was quiet and respectful and helpful around the home.
Simele Bolsiki was known in the community for always looking neat and tidy and for working hard at Qaqamba Senior Secondary School.
Azizipho Zilindile’s siblings say they will miss how he was always patient with them and that he loved children. One of his teachers has described him as a gentle spirit.
Esinako Sanarana was 17 years old and wanted to become a lawyer someday.
Sinothando Mgangala liked hanging out with his friends at Mthiza High School.
Bhongolethu Ncandana was in Grade 12 from West Bank High School. She wanted to be a policewoman .
Nathi Ngqoza had dreams of becoming an actress and to compete on Idols. She was 17 years old.
Aluncedo Monelo was 17 years old. He was a talented artist who drew portraits of family members and of people in the community.
Inathi Nkani was 18 years old and the last born of her mother.
She is described as kind and a big dreamer.
Mbulelo Rangile was 18 years old. He will be laid to rest this weekend. He was a smart dresser and much loved by his family.
Simmamnkele Sobethwa was popular with her family and friends at Kusile Comprehensive School who held a memorial service for her. She was 17 years old.
Asamnkele Thukuthe was a learner at Mzokhanyo Senior Secondary School.
Sandanathi Mahlakahlaka was in Grade 9 and 15 years old. At the school memorial service her classmates described her as a beautiful flower with a lovely smile.
Thembinkosi Silwane attended Zwelemfundo Primary School. He was just 13 years old. His last words to his mother before going out that night were “I’m coming back, Mama.”
Accessed July, 2022. South African president decries deaths of 21 teens in tavern https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/south-africa-holds-funeral-for-21-teens-who-died-in-tavern/2022/07/06/dce0df92-fd07-11ec-b39d-71309168014b_story.html
Accessed July, 2022. Mass Funeral Deepens Mystery: Why Did 21 South African Teens Die in Tavern? https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/06/world/africa/south-africa-tavern-teen-deaths.html
Accessed July, 2022. South Africa police try to unravel mystery of tavern deaths https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-61949878
Accessed July, 2022. South Africa Police Investigating Deaths of 21 Teenagers in Bar https://www.voanews.com/a/south-africa-police-investigating-deaths-of-21-teenagers-in-bar/6634750.html
Accessed July, 2022. Tavern tragedy reinforces need to give priority to tackling underage drinking in South Africa https://theconversation.com/tavern-tragedy-reinforces-need-to-give-priority-to-tackling-underage-drinking-in-south-africa-186396#:~:text=In%20South%20Africa%20it%20is,of%2018%20to%20purchase%20alcohol.
Accessed July, 2022. Enyobeni Tavern disaster https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enyobeni_Tavern_disaster
Accessed July, 2022. I Think My Teenager is Drinking : The Signs and Effects of Alcohol Abuse https://www.lawforall.co.za/family-relationships/underage-drinking-south-africa/
Accessed July, 2022. The Fight Against Underage Drinking | Stats on Teen Alcohol Use https://www.responsibility.org/alcohol-statistics/underage-drinking-statistics
Accessed July, 2022. Eulogy by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the mass funeral for the victims of the Enyobeni tavern tragedy, Scenery Park Sports Field, East London https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/speeches/eulogy-president-cyril-ramaphosa-mass-funeral-victims-enyobeni-tavern-tragedy%2C-scenery-park-sports-field%2C-east-london
Accessed July, 2022. Building Regulations