Osi’s Place Tragedy – Government now needs to be held accountable

Eight young women died in Osi’s Place tavern in Khayelitsha in the early hours of 28 June this year. The youngest was just 15 years old.

Yesterday on 29 October the Western Cape Liquor Licensing Tribunal (the Tribunal) revoked the liquor license of Phumlani Abraham, the owner of the Khayelitsha tavern. As the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) we welcome this decision that holds the owner accountable for allowing minors to consume liquor on the premises, for not exercising proper control and for allowing the tavern to become overcrowded.

We however note with concern the failure of various governmental bodies to enforce legislation and local by-laws and to ensure that a space that was granted a liquor license was appropriate and safe for patrons. These failures became apparent during the Tribunal’s hearings. These failures include the following:

  1. The issuing and repeated renewal of a liquor license to a first story tavern without a fire escape;
  2. The repeated renewal of a liquor license to a tavern without a City of Cape Town issued Population Certificate (that designates the maximum number of people that can be in a venue);
  3. Liquor license compliance inspections undertaken by the Western Cape Liquor Authority, the SAPS and the City of Cape Town’s Liquor Enforcement and Compliance Unit, in the absence of a Population Certificate and hence in the absence of an informed measure of what constituted overcrowding; and
  4. The absence of a Designated Liquor Officer (DLO) at the extremely under-resourced Harare Police Station – a situation that the Minister of Police continues to fail in addressing.

Looking Forward

There has been some indication that following the decision to revoke the liquor license of Osi’s Tavern its owner Phumlani Abraham may face legal action. This is necessary and appropriate.

Elected officials however should also be held accountable.

Western Cape Liquor Authority (WCLA)

The Tribunal’s decision states that a witness for the owner of the tavern “agreed that the premises were unsafe and that there should be a fire escape.” Given that the decision made no mention that the owner had made structural changes to the floor plan originally approved by the WCLA, we can conclude that the original plan didn’t have a fire escape and yet a liquor license had been issued and renewed repeatedly.

In addition it would appear that instances of non-compliance were not documented and were consequently not followed up on.

South African Police Service

During the Tribunal’s hearings the Harare Police Station Commander Colonel Raboliba testified that “there is no DLO (Designated Liquor Officer) in Harare because of a lack of police resources”. Instead an officer works in an acting capacity who cannot perform all the required responsiiblities of such a post due to a low rank.

Given the ongoing inequitable and irrational resourcing of police stations in the Western Cape, identified by the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Policing, the absence of an appropriately ranked and experienced DLO is not surprising. The National Minister, Nathi Nhleko, is yet to respond with a clear plan on how this resourcing “that appears to be systematically biased against poor black communities” will be rectified.

City of Cape Town

In response to an SJC memorandum submitted to the Harare Police Station, the WCLA and the office of Mayco member JP Smith a week after the tragic incident, Mr. Smith shirked responsibility and shifted blame stating that “Only the SAPS have the power to enforce the Liquor Act”. This however is in contradiction with the description of the work of the City of Cape Town’s Liquor Enforcement and Compliance Unit.

Demands

For these reasons the SJC reiterates the following demands made to various levels of government over the past year:

  1. SAPS, and in particular its DLOs, the WCLA and the City’s Liquor Enforcement and Compliance Unit [and the Fire and Rescue Services] need to work cooperatively in order to ensure that tragedies like this are avoided in the future.
  2. The City’s Law Enforcement component, its Liquor Enforcement Unit, its building and health inspectors and its Fire and Rescue Services need to inspect the 34 other legal on-consumption liquor traders [according to Colonel Raboliba’s testimony there may now be 80] in Khayelitsha as a matter of urgency.
  3. Minister Nhleko needs to immediately reallocate resources, including qualified, competent, skilled and experienced SAPS personnel to the police precincts and Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences units in Khayelitsha.
  4. Minister Nhleko must develop a plan to urgently address the need for a rational, equitable redistribution of resources in all nine provinces.

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