In the aftermath of the horrific deaths of 21 teenagers at the Enyobeni Tavern in East London on June 26, survivors of the tragedy relived the trauma of watching their friends die before their eyes.
While police and forensic teams are still trying to determine what caused their deaths, other people who attended the Eastern Cape Tavern party told us about the chaotic events that unfolded on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
What is clear from their accounts is that teenagers as young as 13 were allowed into the tavern and consumed alcohol and that at one point in the early hours of Sunday morning bouncers allegedly used pepper spray or tear gas inside the tavern. .
The revelers then had a hard time getting out of the tavern, which has only one door.
Inam Inkosi Maselikati (17) held her friends Esinako Sanarhana (17) and Nathi Ngqoza (17) as they died in her arms while begging for help that never came. Maselikati was left with pain throughout her body and a bitten ear.
She said DM168 that she and her friends had arrived at the tavern around 10 p.m. on Saturday and had not been able to enter because there was an entrance fee.
“We stayed outside for about an hour, but we were allowed in around 11 p.m. We went straight upstairs, where there was a birthday party for one of the DJs,” she said.
The year 12 pupil from Bloemfontein said she arrived in East London on Friday and traveled to Enyobeni on Saturday evening because of the widely advertised DJ’s birthday party, where there was supposed to be booze and free meat.
“Around 1 a.m. Sunday, when we wanted to leave the tavern, there were bouncers wearing pangas and they wouldn’t let anyone out.
“One of the bouncers sprayed us with pepper spray and that’s when people started collapsing. My friend Esinako, who has asthma, collapsed as we were screaming for help,” said she said. “A man who was dying next to me bit my left ear.”
Maselikati said she tried to crawl out, but tear gas filled the air and she passed out.
“I couldn’t hear anything but I felt people walking on my body. A woman woke me up and told me I passed out for three hours. She helped me contact my family,” she said.
Another survivor, Sibongile Mtsewu (22), said he went to the tavern to buy cider for friends who were at his house.
“I went in and bought the ciders, but as I was going out a group of people came and blocked my way. I was trapped in the center and having trouble breathing from the pepper spray, and people ripped off my cap, my shoes and my phone,” he said.
He said a girl next to him, who told him to call the police, died biting her right arm.
“I had to take my arm off. Tear gas was then fired inside the tavern and I passed out. When I woke up, there were corpses around me. My brother came to pick me up,” he says.
He said he had had chest pains since the incident and when he coughed or sneezed blood came out.
“My body is still in pain because people stepped on us after we passed out,” Mtsewu said.
His brother Sonwabile said that when he learned that his brother had passed out at the tavern, he immediately went there to help him.
“When I arrived, the door was locked. I kicked at the door and looked for him among those corpses. I found him upstairs and took him home,” he said.
Elona Mzawuyiwa (17) said she was still haunted by what she saw that night.
“While we were at the tavern, we left our friends inside to get transportation that would take us to Nompumelelo,” she said. “When we came back we saw dead people and a man trying to save those who were near the door.”
According to the survivors, everyone who paid to enter the tavern that night received a free shooter. “[But] I didn’t catch the shooter when we entered the tavern despite it being free to enter,” she said.
Another survivor, Sipho Skhosana, said the tavern was full and the main cause of the death of the 21 teenagers was the closing of the door, which served as both entrance and exit.
“As we were trying to get out of the tavern, people fell and we tripped over them because we wanted to get out to save our lives. Those who were downstairs couldn’t have survived because people were stepping on them,” a- he declared.
Skhosana said he jumped out of an upper story window to get out.
“There was no other way for me to save myself. I had to jump out the window,” he said.
He said security personnel at the tavern allowed the youths to continue entering when the tavern was full.
“The children were allowed in around 3 a.m. and by then the tavern was packed,” he said.
Andisiwe Mzekeli, a witness who lives two houses away from the Enyobeni tavern, said she returned from another tavern around 4 a.m.
“I noticed that Enyobeni was full and there were people shouting. I made my way near the door and saw bodies strewn everywhere,” she said.
“There was a young girl crying. She was on the ground and the upper half of her body was outside the entrance to the tavern while the lower half was inside.
“Some of the survivors were falling on her while she was stuck and screaming for help. I reached out to her and grabbed her hand. I tried to pull her but noticed that she rolled her eyes, then she loosened her grip on my hand.
She said the girl’s last words were that she couldn’t breathe and died holding Mzekeli’s hand.
According to Mzekeli, the tavern has always allowed minors to drink there.
Another witness, Asanda Misani, said that when the pepper spray incident happened, he was already outside the tavern.
“The doors were closed and we started to see people dropping like flies. Some jumped out of the windows. It’s an image I never want to see again in my life,” he said, saying what he saw that night would stay in his mind for a long time.
“I went there for fun, only to somehow escape death. If we had stayed inside and not come out, we might have died with those kids” , did he declare.
Phumla Bekiso, the mother of Lungile Bekiso (17) from Scenery Park, said she last saw Lungile on Saturday afternoon on her way home from work.
“Around 2:45 a.m., I received a call telling me that Lungile is dying at the Enyobeni tavern. We rushed there and when we arrived he was not among the dead bodies and I was told he was going home,” she sobbed.
She said they rushed to his house to find him and took him to hospital, where he died.
Milton Ngqoza, father of Nathi Ngqoza, said the tragedy robbed the family of their only hope.
“My daughter died.
“She wanted to be a singer and an actress, but all those dreams died overnight,” he said.
“I received a call from the Malangeni family informing me of this incident at the tavern and we went there.
“How can a business like this only have one entrance, and who authorized the function at the tavern?” he asked sobbing.
He said Nathi, who enjoyed studying business at school, was the family’s hope to get out of poverty because everyone was unemployed and survived by doing casual work.
Approached for comment, Siyakchangela Ndevu, owner of the tavern with his wife Vuyokazi Ndevu, said he was not ready to say anything “because the question is heartbreaking”.
Police reportedly ruled out a stampede as the cause of the tragedy. DM168
Lives lost in the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy
Asamkele Thukuthe Lithemba Velaphi
This story first appeared in our weekly newspaper Daily Maverick 168, which is available nationwide for R25.