In March 2001, at Throb nightclub in Chatsworth in Durban, 13 youngsters aged between 11 and 18 died in a stampede after a teargas canister was thrown inside the venue where they were celebrating the end of the school term.This past weekend, 21 years later, South Africa woke up to another devastating tragedy when it was reported that 21 youngsters who had attended a “pens down” event at Scenery Park’s Enyobeni Tavern in East London had perished in the blink of an eye. The victims were between the ages of 13 and 20.
This latest tragedy has sparked a debate about the places that sell alcohol to children, as the legal drinking age in South Africa is 18. These parties, characterised by debauchery and a slew of broken bylaws, happen too regularly for comfort in various towns, townships and villages across the country.
Unsupervised, the youngsters at these mass parties binge-drink and take drugs, with many owners putting profits before children’s lives, as the owners of these establishments are neither monitored nor policed.
We have become a country that doesn’t want to hold the corrupt among us accountable, so it is pointless to blame the young people.
Of concern is that the owners of unregulated taverns and nightclubs are motivated by greed. These venues often entice young people with free alcohol to get them hooked as loyal customers.
As long as the bylaws regulating these venues shine only on paper, and with authorities lacking the will to ensure compliance, tragedies such as these will always haunt us.
We should be deeply ashamed for allowing these taverns to thrive in our communities while expecting to be insulated from the resultant evils. Our indifference and negligence make us complicit in the killing of our young people.