Mass funeral for South African teenagers who died in tavern
Workers carry an empty coffin at a funeral parlour ahead of the mass funeral for victims of an east coast tavern where bodies of youth were found which prompted nationwide grief, in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The owner of Eyobeni tavern, in which 21 teenagers mysteriously died last month, has been arrested in connection with the tragedy. Two employees of the Eastern Cape club have also been arrested.

The South African Police Service (SAPS) said in a statement that the three were arrested over the weekend and on Tuesday.

SAPS Eastern Cape spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said the three were arrested by a team of detectives working on the Scenery Park incident.

“The arrest of the 52-year-old suspect and two employees, aged 33 and 34, follows after the Eastern Cape Liquor Board laid charges in Scenery Park Police Station for contravention of the Liquor Act.


A general view of Enyobeni, an east coast tavern where bodies of youth were found which prompted nationwide grief ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London
A general view of Enyobeni, an east coast tavern where bodies of youth were found which prompted nationwide grief ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 5, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Mass funeral planned for South African teenagers who died in tavern
Neighbours and family members sing church hymns next to Asanda Monelo, ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 5, 2022. Monelo lost her 17-year-old son Aluncedo at an east coast tavern, where bodies of youth were found, which prompted nationwide grief. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Vuyokazi Ndevu, the owner of Enyobeni tavern walks in front of a police officer ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London
Vuyokazi Ndevu, the owner of Enyobeni tavern, an east coast tavern where bodies of youth were found which prompted nationwide grief, walks in front of a police officer ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 5, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“After the opening of the case by the Liquor Board, the investigators embarked on the investigation process which resulted in fines to the amount of R2000 being issued to each of the two tavern employees, whilst summons were served to the owner for his immediate arrest and appearance in the court of law.”

He said the investigation is focused on alleged violation or contravention of the Eastern Cape Liquor Act by permitting or conniving for the selling or supplying of alcohol to children under the age of 18 years and for selling or supplying of alcohol to children, as well as other issues.

The tavern owner is expected to appear in the East London Magistrate Court on 19 August 2022 to face the charges.

“The two employees have been given an option of a fine in terms of the Liquor Act. Should they fail to pay the fine, they will be required to appear in the same court on the 19th August 2022,” said Kinana.

In South Africa, alcohol consumption figures among adults are rated among the highest in the world, but is underage drinking becoming a norm, too? Within days of the tavern tragedy, Carte Blanche took to the streets of East London and surrounds to find underage drinking carrying on unabated in the area. The current affairs show confronted the Provincial Liquor Board on where accountability lies. If you live abroad, you can watch this episode of CARTE BLANCHE on Showmax International, streaming now in most countries.

What killed the teenagers in the Enyobeni tavern tragedy in East London?

The SAPS management reaffirmed in the statement its commitment in ensuring that all the investigations around the Scenery Park incident are conducted in a professional and well-organised manner to ensure the successful prosecution and subsequent conviction in the court of law.

The Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant General Nomthetheleli Mene, expressed her appreciation for the work of the investigators; as well as gratitude for the patience shown by both affected families and communities alike.

“Just as we said in the beginning, investigation is a process and needs to be treated with extreme care and wisdom so that we can achieve the desired outcomes which all of us will be proud of. This is the beginning of the great work we are doing behind the scene,” Lt Gen Mene said.

Kinana said the forensic investigation into the cause of death of the 21 youths in Enyobeni tavern is still ongoing.

“As indicated earlier, at an appropriate time and conclusion of the investigation, the results will be made available to the affected families. There are no new developments at this stage,” he said.

According to Reuters, “a source close to the investigation (says) one theory was a chemical or gas leak and authorities also investigating possible accidental poisoning.”

Some witnesses told The New York Times that “after 12:30 a.m., the tavern went dark, but no one flinched — electricity blackouts are a common occurrence in South Africa. But as the flashing disco lights returned minutes later, a gas wafted through the ground floor, survivors said. Some said it smelled like pepper spray, while others likened it to tear gas.”

Sources – SAnews.gov.za, Reuters, The New York Times