South African authorities are still investigating the tragic township tavern incident involving at least 21 teenagers who died this weekend — the youngest being 13 years old.
Unathi Binqose, a spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Community Safety, told South Africa’s Daily Maverick that forensic pathologists on the case credit the sudden deaths to possible poison consumption in the tavern.
“[They] said it was something they ingested, possibly from the beers they were consuming or something they inhaled from those hubbly-bubblies [hookahs] that they were smoking,” Binqose said.
Government officials reported eight girls and 13 boys died. Authorities found 17 bodies dead inside the tavern, while the others passed away at a hospital.
Officials found the teen’s bodies lying on tables, sprawled out on chairs, couches and the dance floor.
According to CBS, the students celebrated the end of their high school exams at the local East London tavern.
The deaths occurred between 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. National Police Minister shared that toxicology labs in Cape Town would perform an autopsy on the victims’ bodies to investigate if the teens ingested poison at the party.
“They died as they danced,” Cele said to CBS. “They dance, fall and die. Literally.”
The reason for the disaster has been the subject of much speculation, ranging from a probable gas leak to the now-ruled-out stampede.
“The sight of those bodies sleeping there … when you look at their faces, you realize that you’re dealing with kids, kids, kids,” Cele said while crying. “You’ve heard the story that they are young, but when you see them, you realize that it’s a disaster. Twenty-one of them. Too many.”
Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, who was at the bar at the time for a work opportunity, said she was “confused” but fortunate to be alive following the tragedy.
Monyane managed to escape the tavern through a door guarded by people attempting to leave.
“We tried moving through the crowd, shouting ‘please let us through,’ and others were shouting ‘we are dying, guys,’ and ‘we are suffocating’ and ‘there are people who can’t breathe,” she told CBS.
The Eastern Cape Liquor Board is considering revoking Enyobeni Tavern’s liquor license and plans to follow through with criminal charges against the club’s license holder following the underage drinking violation.
“As the Board, we have always been forthright in our condemnation and fight against the sale of alcohol to the underage,” Dr. Nombuyiselo Makala, Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement. “We have also consistently taken every necessary step against any liquor outlet that is found to have sold alcohol to the underage.”
The Enyobeni Tavern has not released any statements following the investigation.