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A relative speaks to the media outside Enyobeni Tavern in East London, where at least 21 young people died on Sunday. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH/MARK ANDREWS
A relative speaks to the media outside Enyobeni Tavern in East London, where at least 21 young people died on Sunday. Picture: DAILY DISPATCH/MARK ANDREWS

During a 1993 trip to Russia, writer Masha Gessen was shocked at how many people were dying young. 

They were dying, she wrote in an essay later for The New York Review of Books, by drowning or falling off buildings or trains, having heart attacks or asphyxiating in houses warmed by faulty wood stoves, getting hit by cars and poisoning themselves with alcohol, either by drinking too much of it or ingesting badly brewed moonshine.

Gessen sobbed to a friend that it wasn’t as if there was a war on. “But there is,” said the friend.

“This is what civil war actually looks like. It’s not when everybody starts running around with guns. It’s when everybody starts dying,” she told  Gessen.

While Gessen’s essay was about Russia’s well-honed drinking problem (and make no mistake, SA — ranked 19th in the world by the World Health Organisation for hardened drinking — also has an alcohol problem), its ripples were felt in Enyobeni Tavern in the early hours of Sunday morning when 21 young people died.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s hand-wringing that the tragedy is all the worse for having happened during Youth Month or the police minister — a man not known for tact — blaming the parents ring both true and hollow.

Those children might have been better served by a police force that actually sent officers to check out crowded taverns full of young people, or they might have been saved by stricter parents, but what happened on Sunday morning is much more than that.

The tragedy is a failure of so many things: safety, parenting, policing and nightclub management, right down to simple care for one another.

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