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President Cyril Ramaphosa at the mass funeral for those who died in the Enyobeni tragedy in East London. Picture: ALAN EASON
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the mass funeral for those who died in the Enyobeni tragedy in East London. Picture: ALAN EASON

Profiteers, not parents, are to blame for the deaths of 21 teenagers at the Enyobeni tavern, President Cyril Ramaphosa told mourners on Wednesday.

Delivering the eulogy at the mass funeral for the victims, including a 13-year-old, at Scenery Park in East London, Ramaphosa said the youngsters shouldn’t have been allowed in a place reserved for adults, and they shouldn’t have been served alcohol.

“It is shameful there are people out there who are blaming the parents and even blaming the young people for going there,” he said. “These were young people, full of life. They wanted a place to meet their friends and have a good time to celebrate the end of their exams.”

“Blame must be laid at the feet of those who are making money off the dreams and lives of the young people of SA by breaking the law and selling them alcohol. What was happening was illegal,” Ramaphosa added.   

Ramaphosa’s comments are in stark contrast to those of police minister Bheki Cele, who last week blamed community members and questioned how parents did not know the whereabouts of their children.  

These unscrupulous operators don’t care if their venues become too overcrowded, as long as more people are coming in, paying entrance fees and ordering from the bar
President Cyril Ramaphosa

The cause of the teenagers’ deaths has yet to be established, with the possibility of a stampede all but ruled out.

A medical expert told mourners the clothes of the deceased had been sent to the laboratory for tests. He asked them for patience, saying it was a sensitive matter. 

Ramaphosa said: “We do know the law was broken that night, and probably many nights before then. Many young people under the age of 18 were drinking alcohol that had been sold to them.”     

Ramaphosa mentioned a similar incident in Khayelitsha in 2015, where eight young women died, and another in Durban in 2000, where 13 children died and 100 were injured.

“What is common to all of these is that they were selling and serving alcohol to underage patrons, in violation of the law.”

He slammed owners of entertainment venues that did not comply with the law but were instead focused on making money at whatever cost. 

“These unscrupulous operators don’t care if their venues become too overcrowded, as long as more people are coming in, paying entrance fees and ordering from the bar,” Ramaphosa said.

“Is it then no wonder our children have come to associate having a good time with having drinks, and why so many indulge in heavy or binge drinking?”

The president assured mourners that law enforcement agencies were investigating whether the Enyobeni tavern had the necessary permits and was compliant with municipal regulations. 

“We know this is a difficult time but I want to call on the community to let this, as well as the police investigation, run its course.”

Ramaphosa described the incident as a national tragedy and promised action to prevent underage drinking. 

“These children should not have died. Their deaths could have been prevented had the law been adhered to,” he said.

TimesLIVE

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