At least 21 teenagers, the youngest possibly as young as 13, died over the weekend after a night out at a tavern in the township ofin a tragedy whose cause remains uncertain. Many of them are thought to be students celebrating the end of their high school exams on Saturday night, provincial officials said.
There were no visible wounds on the bodies. Authorities ruled out a stampede as a possible cause and said autopsies would determine whether the deaths could be linked to poisoning.
Crowds of people, including parents whose children were missing, gathered outside the tavern where the tragedy took place in the city of East London on Sunday as mortuary vehicles collected the bodies, a correspondent has found. the AFP.
Senior government officials rushed to the city from the south. Among them was National Police Minister Bheki Cele, who broke down in tears after walking out of a morgue where the bodies were stored.
“It’s a terrible scene,” he told reporters. “They’re pretty young. When you’re told they’re 13, 14 and you go there and see them. It breaks you.”
The Eastern Cape provincial government said eight girls and 13 boys had died. Seventeen were found dead inside the tavern. The others died in hospital.
Alcohol consumption is permitted for people over 18 in township taverns, commonly known as shebeens, which are often located side by side with family homes or, in some cases, inside the homes themselves. same.
But safety rules and drinking age laws aren’t always enforced.
“We have a child who was there who died at the scene,” the parents of a 17-year-old boy said.
“This child, we didn’t think he was going to die this way. He was a humble, respectful child,” said grieving mother Ntombizonke Mgangala, standing next to her husband outside the morgue.
A 17-year-old girl who identified herself to Reuters news agency as Lolly said the tavern was popular among teenagers.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who attends thein Germany, sent his condolences.
He said he was concerned “by the reported circumstances in which these young people were gathered in a place which, on the face of it, should be prohibited for people under the age of 18”.
Authorities are currently considering revising liquor licensing regulations.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable… to lose 20 young lives like this,” said provincial premier Oscar Mabuyane, visibly shocked.
He was speaking to reporters before the toll was updated to at least 21.
He condemned the “unlimited consumption of alcohol”.
“You can’t just trade in the middle of society like that and think young people aren’t going to experiment,” he said outside the tavern in a residential area called Scenery Park.
Empty liquor bottles, wigs and even a purple “Happy Birthday” sash were found strewn on the dusty street outside the two-storey Enyobeni Tavern, according to Unathi Binqose, a government security official who arrived at the scene at dawn.
Excluding a stampede as the cause of death, Binqose told AFP: “There are no visible open injuries.”
“Medical examiners (investigators) will take samples and test to see if there has been poisoning of any kind,” he said, adding that the bar was overcrowded.
Local newspaper DispatchLive reported on its website: “Bodies are strewn across tables, chairs and on the floor, with no obvious signs of injury.”
Parents and officials said they understood many of the dead were students celebrating “thought” parties held after high school exams ended.
Local television showed police trying to calm a crowd of parents and onlookers gathered outside the club in the town, which is on the Indian Ocean coast about 1,000km south of Johannesburg.