Church Leaders in South Africa “grieve” Over Local Tavern Tragedy, Urge Focus on Lessons

Entrance to Enyobeni Tavern, a nightclub in the South African city of East London in Eastern Cape where 21 teenagers lost their lives in the early hours of 26 June 2022. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Church leaders in South Africa are grieving with family members of the victims of the Enyobeni Tavern, a nightclub in the South African city of East London in Eastern Cape where 21 teenagers lost their lives in the early hours of Sunday, June 26.

The “21 teenagers died in unexplainable circumstances”, according to a BBC report that adds in reference to accounts from authorities, “There were no visible injuries on the bodies of the deceased … so a crush seems an unlikely explanation.” 

While it is not yet “clear why there were so many young people there on Saturday night,” the BBC report indicates, the owner of the night club is quoted as saying the teenager were there to celebrate the end exams in their respective schools, after similar parties had ended in other nightclubs. 

“A birthday party was also being held at the tavern,”  according to BBC.

In a June 26 statement shared with ACI Africa, members of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) say South African citizens “must” draw lessons from the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, with particular focus on activities of students after completing their examinations.


“As we grieve with the affected families and the churches supporting each of them through this pain, we must as a nation identify lessons out (of) this, especially on what children do at the occasion of finishing exams and coming to the end of school time,” church leaders in South Africa say about the June 26 morning tragedy in which those who lost their lives ranged from 13 to 17 years.

In their statement signed by SACC General Secretary, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana of the Ethiopian Episcopal Church, church leaders in South Africa express their awareness about the situation of the affected families.

“The shock and grief of the affected families is beyond imagination! The trauma effect on the friends and associates of these children will need professional attention,” the church leaders who include representatives of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) says.

In South Africa, only those aged 18 and above are permitted to drink. In a June 28 SABC News report, “The Eastern Cape Liquor Board says it will lay criminal charges against the owner of the Enyobeni Tavern. The board says it has also revoked the liquor license of the establishment.” 

According to an earlier SABC News report, a team of experts was deployed “to investigate the circumstances behind the deaths of the” 21 teenagers.

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In the June 26 report, Police Minister Bheki Cele is quoted as saying that he had “reliably been informed that there is no natural death among the dead.” 

In the SABC News report, Mr. Cele recalls the victims of the Enyobeni Tavern tragedy, recounting, “When you look at their faces you realise that you are dealing with kids, you have heard the story that they are young but when you see them you realise it’s a disaster.”

In their June 26 statement shared with ACI Africa, SACC members urged forensic experts in South Africa “to get to the bottom” of the tragedy.

“We look to the State forensic services to get to the bottom of this and identify the cause of death and bring those responsible swiftly to the corridors of justice,” they say.

“Meanwhile, there are serious questions to be asked about this particular tavern”, church leaders in South Africa further say, adding, “There should be clear conditions for the operation of a licensed shebeen (an informal licensed drinking place in a township). These include the specifications for the premises - ventilation, toilets, entrance, and exit, including emergency exit points.”


SACC members “call on those responsible for the granting of liquor licenses for these shebeens, and the relevant inspectorates, to account for the practice of this horror place - the East London Death Shebeen!”

Meanwhile, in a June 26 statement, South Africa's leadership expresses solidarity with all those affected by the tragedy.

"While the President awaits more information on the incident, his thoughts are with the families who have lost children as well as families who are awaiting confirmation of how their children may have been affected," the statement from the presidency reads in part. 

Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.