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Enyobeni Tavern, where 21 East London children lost their lives. Picture: MICHAEL PINYANA
Enyobeni Tavern, where 21 East London children lost their lives. Picture: MICHAEL PINYANA

The saga of the Eastern Cape tavern deaths would be comical if it weren’t so tragic. Some time in the early hours of the morning a bunch of seriously underage kids imbibed something so toxic that 21 of them died.

Here are some questions the authorities are about as likely to answer as President Cyril Ramaphosa is to explain whose dollars were really being stored at Phala Phala. If the tavern was really licensed, why isn’t the proprietor in jail for having supplied liquor — any liquor — to under-age consumers? If it wasn’t licensed, why isn’t the proprietor in jail for selling liquor without a licence? Given the gravity of the matter, why is it taking so long to obtain an independent toxicology report on the contents of the victims’ stomachs?

There has been a report suggesting that the victims died from inhaling a toxic gas; this is about as credible as the fiction of Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala Ankole livestock sales. Why did the bouncers not die? How is it that the barmen and serving staff are still alive? Police minister Bheki Cele (not a man whose statements I ordinarily take at face value) is quoted as saying: Those kids started dying at 2.13am until 4am. They died as they danced.” If that’s factually correct they weren’t inhaling toxic fumes for a couple of hours.

It seems probable that they died because the liquor they were served was laced with methanol. The illicit liquor sector has always been big business in this country. It was given a huge boost by the ANC’s liquor policy during the Covid-19 lockdowns. It has continued to flourish because the police, under Cele’s direction, don’t do their job. This doesn’t require a Bernard Spilsbury or a Sherlock Holmes. But it does require cops that track down crooks, not shield them from the law.

Michael Fridjhon

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Send us an email with your comments to letters@businesslive.co.za. Letters of more than 300 words will be edited for length. Anonymous correspondence will not be published. Writers should include a daytime telephone number.​


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