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BEHIND THE NEWS | More questions than answers about Enyobeni tragedy

The country and international community waiting to hear what caused the deaths of 21 young people at tavern

Ntombizonke Mgangala, aunt to one of the youngsters who lost their lives at the East London tavern, is consoled by a psycho-support team member.
Ntombizonke Mgangala, aunt to one of the youngsters who lost their lives at the East London tavern, is consoled by a psycho-support team member.

It’s 10.46 on a Tuesday outside the Cambridge police station hall and I am updating the newsdesk that it should be ready for some breaking news about the cause of the deaths of 21 young people at the Enyobeni tavern.

“The wait is over. All will be revealed soon.” That was my WhatsApp text to one of my colleagues.

By that time, journalists were already camped outside the police station hall with their cameras and smartphones ready for action.

According to the invitation, the media briefing was to be held at 11am, but the authorities first needed to brief families of the victims inside the hall.  

The Daily Dispatch team, with a home-ground advantage, was the first media team to arrive at the venue.

By 11am the media briefing had not started. The authorities were still locked inside with family members.

At 11.08am we heard some screaming and crying from family members, apparently after Dr Litha Matiwane told them that alcohol, carbon monoxide and methanol traces had been found in the youngsters’ bodies after blood and gastric samples were taken to a laboratory in Cape Town.

Police Minister Bheki Cele with Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.
Police Minister Bheki Cele with Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane.

Matiwane, the Eastern Cape department of health’s deputy director-general for clinical services, also told them the alcohol and carbon monoxide levels found in the teenagers were not at the level of a lethal toxicology, meaning they had been ruled out as the cause of death.

The families’ anger and emotions increased.

They demanded explanations of the terms used and asked when they could expect the final results of the toxicology tests. Sadly, there was no satisfying response from authorities.

The authorities said they were still waiting for quantitative results of the methanol found in the blood samples of all 21 youngsters.

They did not know when the final results would come out, much to the disappointment and devastation of the parents of the victims.

At most funerals in townships and rural areas the cause of death is usually announced during the funeral programme.

Some family members said they had been expecting to be told the cause of death during the mass funeral of victims held at the Scenery Park sports field on July 6.

Even though one might not have all the details about the processes of the toxicology results, there seems to be some sort of confusion among the authorities about this matter.

At first mourners were told during the mass funeral that the cause of death was to be announced by “Dr Zondi”, who was not at the funeral. Then Dr Matiwane was called to the stage, only to tell mourners that they were still expecting results.

On Monday, a media invitation was sent out about “an update on the death of 21 Eastern Cape youths”.

The same invitation was sent the SA Police Service and the police ministry, with 2pm as the time the engagement was expected to start.

Then some hours later another invitation, with the same wording, was sent to the provincial government with 11am as the starting time.

Even though premier Oscar Mabuyane has pleaded for patience over the investigation of the matter, families are panicking. They want to know what led to the deaths of their children.

For now, methanol, a toxic form of alcohol, has been detected in all bodies of the victims.

Methanol is used industrially as a solvent, pesticide or an alternative source of fuel, but not for the production of alcohol sold for human consumption.

The question is where is this methanol emanating from?

If it was in the alcohol consumed by the young people, where did they buy such alcohol?

So many more questions than answers as the country and international community wait to hear from the authorities.



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