Justice must be done for Scenery Park 21 following Enyobeni Tavern incident

The South African Council of Churches (SACC:EC) in the Eastern Cape has been offering ongoing support to the families and survivors of the Enyobeni tragedy which rocked the community of Scenery Park and surrounding areas in June this year. The SACC is now concerned that 139 days after the deaths of the 21 young people, justice has yet to be done.

The families do not accept the results given as the cause of death which were delivered to them by the Department of Health on the 1st of September 2022. They also say they are unhappy with the quality of counselling given by the social workers who are deployed by the Provincial Department of Social Development has also not been sufficient.

The conflicting statements around the cause of death of the 21 children makes the families very suspicious. Furthermore, they and survivors of the eNyobeni Tavern incident are also disappointed in what they see as a diminishing interest and concern from many interest groups including some in the religious fraternity and in government structures. They feel abandoned in their quest to find answers and closure following this very heart-breaking incident.

The SACC EC has been on site in Enyobeni since 26 June, the day the children died. Through continuous interactions, the Council has learnt that the families are concerned that almost five (5) months since the eNyobeni incident occurred, there has not been sufficient feedback. Meanwhile, the tavern owners are still present in the community, apparently running their other businesses and allegedly opening eNyobeni from time to time.

Following a formal request from families for intervention, the SACC EC produced a long-term national psycho-social support plan which was shared with the Provincial Department of Social Development on their behalf. The alleged unprofessional attitude and divide-and-rule tactics meted out against the victims’ family members by the departmental officials is unacceptable.

Several international, national, and local parties have since been engaging with the families, through their representatives and the SACC EC, with an interest in whether the families are getting the necessary support towards achieving justice for those affected and holding those responsible accountable for the tragedy.

A legal team has been established comprising crime and civil litigation experts led by Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and local firm MSZ Attorneys. They are working with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) on preparations for leading evidence on behalf of the families. National psychosocial support by church affiliated social workers, psychologists, medical doctors, Zwelonke Women Fellowship and clergy for spiritual upliftment with trauma counselling has been taking place for the past three months, supported by the Church Unity Commission (CUC) led by Bishop Paul Verryn. The legal team will, in conjunction with the families and other stakeholders, decide whether to initiate litigation to ensure that justice is done.

As part of our formal statement to the South African public, as well as continental and international communities, we are making it clear that the Scenery Park 21 families, and the more than fifty (50) known survivors, are not alone in their fight to find justice, but are receiving support from all over. To demonstrate this, a march is planned to take place from the City Hall in Oxford Street, East London, to the High Court in Fleet Street, starting at 08h00 on 25th November 2022, the day on which the court case against the tavern owners recommences.

The main participants in the march are families of the deceased Scenery Park 21 and survivors of the incident, national and Eastern Cape Provincial representatives of the SACC, members of the Buffalo City community at large, our legal team, medical specialists, politicians, and civil society organizations, including the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA).

In addition, SAAPA SA is, on behalf of the Enyobeni 21 task team, launching an online and hard copy petition to collect the signatures of all of those who want to be part of the call for justice for the Scenery Park 21 families and the survivors. The petition will be available on the https://awethu.amandla.mobi/ website in the week starting 14 November 2022.

The SACC EC calls upon all churches, faith-based institutions, civil society organisations, and anyone else seeking justice for the Enyobeni 21, their families, and the surviving children who have been left with lifetime scars, to do the following:

  • Sign the petition
  • Join the one-hour march to court on the 25th of November starting at 8h00
  • Pray for the survivors who are still getting in and out of East London public health facilities getting medical treatment
  • Pray for those young children who survived the ordeal and have still not disclosed to their families that they were part of the eNyobeni Tavern mysterious death trap for fear of being chastised by their parents and family members
  • Pray for those young children who survived the incident and are currently writing their final examination with the expectation that they will do well academically
  • Pray for parents of the deceased children and the survivors, who face prejudicial treatment from their communities
  • Join the appeal to the Eastern Cape government to handle this shameful disaster with caution and to show the political will to engage openly and freely with churches who want to assist the families of the deceased and survivors to resist being bullied into accepting the status quo without question
  • Support the call by SAAPA SA and others for a full, independent inquiry into how the tragedy happened, focusing not only on the tavern owners – who must be held accountable for the deaths of the 21 and not just for contravening the Liquor Act – but also local, provincial and national government and their failure to promote the health, safety and well-being of our people by establishing an alcohol-safer South Africa
  • Come on board to assist in any way possible towards supporting the Scenery Park 21 families, and joining the campaign to ensure that such incidents never occur again

We also call on all media houses to exercise sensitivity and objectivity in telling the true story of the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy to the world in a manner that does not prejudice the families, nor divide society in terms of favouring the status quo.

Stay united and blessed
SACC EC President Canon Prof. Lulama Ntshingwa