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 inside a nightclub in the city of East London over the weekend – without any immediately obvious cause.

The incident has gripped the country since the emergency services were called to Enyobeni Tavern early Sunday morning. Desperate families waited for updates while forensic teams analyzed the scene.

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

Authorities first considered whether a storm could have been the cause of death, but “we can not say for sure what happened so far,” Cele said on Sunday when further tests were performed on the bodies.

South Africa’s Daily Dispatch newspaper reported on Sunday that corpses were discovered “lying bizarrely as if they had suddenly collapsed to the floor while dancing or in the middle of a conversation”. The newspaper said that the journalists had also seen bodies in chairs and lying on board inside the room “without obvious signs of injury”.

The newspaper said that they had chosen not to publish photos taken on the spot.

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

“This tragedy has been made even more serious by its occurrence during the month of adolescence – a time when we celebrate young people, advocate for and promote opportunities for improved socio-economic conditions for the youth of our nation,” Ramaphosa tweeted.

The youths gathered at the popular venue to celebrate the end of the exams, according to the Associated Press, while locals said the venue was known for overcrowding and accused it of selling alcohol to underage participants.

Promise Matinise, the entertainment director of Enyobeni Tavern, told the BBC on Monday that he saw people falling one after the other after bouncers struggled to control the large crowd inside. Matinise said he contacted the establishment’s owner when he realized that some of the victims were not breathing.

In South Africa, the minimum age for drinking is 18, although there have been calls to raise it to 21 in an attempt to combat crime and alcohol and drug abuse.

Siyanda Manana, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Cape Province Health Department, told Reuters that the bodies of the victims would be taken to state morgues for identification. “We will immediately initiate autopsies so we can know the probable cause of death,” he said.