Osi’s Place Tragedy: An owner’s negligence and non-compliance and the failure of government oversight

The final hearing relating to the liquor license of Osi’s Tavern in front of the Western Cape Liquor Authority (WCLA) is now scheduled for 16 October 2015 when the tavern’s residential neighbours will be testifying. These hearings are as a result of the tragic death of eight young women at the Khayelitsha tavern in the early morning hours of 28 June. The youngest was just 15 years old.

Western Cape Liquor Authority

What has emerged in the hearings so far is that a month prior to the tragic incident an inspector with the WCLA had visited Osi’s Tavern and had found it to be non-compliant. On this occasion the inspector witnessed patrons taking alcohol off the premises and noted an absence of identifiable security personnel on duty. Despite these facts the inspector failed to serve the owner with a written warning, and instead just forced the tavern to close early on the night. It would appear that no follow up to this instance of non-compliance was undertaken. In addition the inspector testified that the WCLA relied heavily on SAPS and City of Cape Town Law Enforcement to ensure liquor license compliance.

South African Police Service

A lack of substantive oversight and enforcement extends beyond the Liquor Authority. The Harare Police Station Commander Colonel Rabolida, for instance, testified that “there is no DLO (Designated Liquor Officer) in Harare because of a lack of police resources”. Instead the station has someone in an acting capacity, but because of the rank of the individual all of the responsibilities required of the position aren’t being executed.

Given the finding of inequitable and irrational resourcing of police stations in the Western Cape made by the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into Policing, the absence of a DLO isn’t surprising. The Harare police station has the lowest number of police personnel to population in the Western Cape province. Police stations across the country have an average of 358 police personnel per 100,000 residents. In the Western Cape this ratio drops to 283, while Harare only has 111 per 100,000 residents.

Department of Community Safety

In addition to it’s finding and recommendations on inequitable and irrational resourcing, the Commission also recommended that the Western Cape Government’s Department of Community Safety (DOCS) “establish a provincial task team to investigate policy options relating to unlicensed liquor outlets in Khayelitsha” informed by research conducted in Khayelitsha to determine the views of residents on these outlets. The Commission suggested that this research be completed within nine months of the Commission publishing its report – put differently, by May 2015. This hasn’t happened. DOCS may counter that the recommendation stated the task team should include either the Provincial or Deputy Provincial Police Commissioner and that given SAPS’ tardiness they couldn’t move forward. This is disingenuous. If the Western Cape Government was serious about addressing alcohol and implementing the Commission’s recommendations, they could and should have proceeded with the implementation of this recommendation with assistance from the WCLA and the City of Cape Town’s Metro Police.

City of Cape Town

In response to a Social Justice Coalition 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. The memorandum, amongst other things demanded that “SAPS, and in particular its Designated Liquor Officers (DLOs), The Western Cape Liquor Authority and the Law Enforcement component from the City of Cape Town need to work cooperatively in order to ensure that tragedies like this are avoided in the future”. Mayco member Smith’s email response: “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.

Looking Forward

The deliberations of the WCLA after the hearing will be whether to revoke, suspend or reinstate the liquor license of Osi’s Tavern, held by its owner Phumlani Abraham. There has been some indication that on the back of the finding other legal actions against Mr Abraham might follow. This is necessary and appropriate.

What won’t happen, however, is elected officials being held accountable for failing to deliver services in a sustained, equitable and rational way to those living in Khayelitsha. On 25 August last year, the Commission of Inquiry’s report containing its findings and recommendations was made public. One of the twenty recommendations stated, “that the Provincial Commissioner allocate additional uniformed police to the three Khayelitsha police stations, in terms of section 12(3) of the SAPS Act”. More than a year later this has not happened and the National Minister, Nathi Nhleko, is yet to respond with a clear plan on how resourcing “that appears to be systematically biased against poor black communities” will be rectified.

Recently all levels of government have made statements about the negative demonstrable link between alcohol consumption and violent crime and the resultant economic strain it places on government budgets. The tragic deaths of eight young, some underage women on 28 June 2015 cannot be attributed to acts of violence, but their deaths are testament to governments’ failure to make Khayelitsha and similar communities safer through leadership and appropriate resourcing to ensure adherence to the law.


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

  1. SAPS, and in particular its Designated Liquor Officers (DLOs), The Western Cape Liquor Authority and the Law Enforcement component from the City of Cape Town need to work cooperatively in order to ensure that tragedies like this are avoided in the future.
  2. The City of Cape Town’s Law Enforcement component, its liquor enforcement unit and its building and health inspectors, need to inspect the 34 other legal on-consumption liquor traders (according to Colonel Rabolida’s testimony there may now be 80) in Khayelitsha as a matter of urgency. Government is unlikely to make inroads into reducing the number of unlicensed liquor outlets in Khayelitsha (currently there are around 1400) if the licensed outlets are perceived to be unsafe.
  3. Minister Nhleko needs to immediately reallocate resources, including qualified, competent, skilled and experienced SAPS personnel to the police precincts and FCS units in Khayelitsha and the five police precincts with the highest number of serious contact crimes in the Western Cape.
  4. Minister Nhleko must develop a plan to urgently address the need for a rational, equitable redistribution of resources in all nine provinces within six months.



For comment please contact:

Chumile Sali

071 609 3236

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