South Africa investigates mysterious nightclub deaths at Enyobeni Tavern

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Police in South Africa are investigating the deaths of at least 21 young people whose bodies were found at a nightclub in the city of East London over the weekend – with no immediately apparent cause.

The incident has gripped the country since emergency services were called to the Enyobeni tavern in the early hours of Sunday morning. Desperate families awaited updates while forensic teams analyzed the scene.

National Police Minister Bheki Cele told a local news station that one victim was 13 years old and called the incident a disaster. “If you look at their faces, you realize we’re dealing with children,” Cele said.

Authorities initially considered whether a stampede could have been the cause of death, but “we can’t say for sure what happened for now,” Cele said Sunday as more tests were conducted on the bodies.

South Africa’s Daily Dispatch reported on Sunday that bodies were discovered lying “bizarrely, as if they had suddenly fallen to the ground while dancing or in the middle of a conversation”. The newspaper said its reporters also saw bodies lying on chairs and over tables in the venue “with no obvious signs of injury.”

The newspaper said it chose not to publish photos taken at the scene.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa offered his “deepest condolences” for those who have lost loved ones.

“This tragedy is made even more serious by its occurrence during Youth Month – a time when we celebrate young people, advocate for, and promote opportunities for, better socio-economic conditions for our nation’s youth,” Ramaphosa tweeted.

According to the Associated Press, young people gathered at the popular venue to celebrate the end of the trials, while locals said the venue was known for its overcrowding and accused it of selling alcohol to underage attendees.

Promise Matinise, the entertainment manager at Enyobeni Tavern, told the BBC on Monday he saw people dropping one by one after bouncers struggled to control the large crowd inside. Matinise said he contacted the facility’s owner when he noticed some of the victims were not breathing.

In South Africa, the drinking age is 18, although there have been calls for it to be raised to 21 to tackle crime, alcohol and drug abuse.

Siyanda Manana, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Cape provincial health agency, told Reuters that the bodies of the victims were being taken to state morgues for identification. “We will start autopsies immediately so we can know the probable cause of death,” he said.