There were no visible wounds on the bodies. Officials have ruled out a stampede as a possible cause and said autopsies would determine if the deaths could be linked to the poisoning. At least 20 teenagers, the youngest possibly just 13, died at the weekend after a night out at a township tavern in South Africa, in a tragedy whose cause remains unclear. It is unclear what led to the deaths of the young people, who were reportedly attending a party to celebrate the end of winter school exams. A local newspaper reported that bodies were strewn across tables and chairs without any visible signs of injuries.
“The number has increased to 20, three have died in hospital. But there are still two who are very critical,” head of the provincial government safety department Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe said on local TV.
National police minister Bheki Cele told reporters when visiting the scene that he could not yet say what happened at the venue, but said some of the victims were just 13 years old. Samples from the bodies will be taken to toxicology labs in Cape Town for more advanced analysis, the minister said. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to the families of the victims.
The owner of the club, Siyakhangela Ndevu, told local media he was called to the scene early Sunday morning. “I am still uncertain about what really happened, but when I was called in the morning I was told the place was too full and that some people were trying to force their way into the tavern,” he said.
The provincial government of Eastern Cape said eight girls and 13 boys had died. Seventeen were found dead inside the tavern. The rest died in hospital. Drinking is permitted for over-18s in township taverns, commonly known as shebeens, which are often situated cheek by jowl with family homes or, in some cases, inside the homes themselves. But safety regulations and drinking-age laws are not always enforced.
The authorities are now considering whether to revise liquor licensing regulations. South Africa is among the countries in Africa where most alcohol is consumed. Empty bottles of alcohol, wigs and even a pastel purple “Happy Birthday” sash were found strewn on the dusty street outside the double-story Enyobeni Tavern, according to Unathi Binqose, a safety government official who arrived at the scene at dawn.
Ruling out a stampede as the cause of death, Binqose told, “There are no visible open wounds.” “Forensic (investigators) will take samples and test to see if there was any poisoning of any sort,” he said, adding the bar was overcrowded.
The President expects the law to take its course following investigations into the tragedy, the statement added. The cause of the incident is currently under investigation, Eastern Cape Police spokesperson Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana.