South African police investigate death of 21 minors aged between 13 and 17 in a tavern

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At least 21 minors between the ages of 13 and 17 died on Sunday morning. in South Africa in the coastal city of East London during an end-of-exams celebration at a tavern, police said.

The cause of death was not immediately known. Local media initially reported that a stampede may have occurred in the overcrowded tavern, but police later ruled this out as none of the victims had visible injuries, according to the Sunday Times.

Nine of the victims are women and 12 are men. The police found 17 lifeless bodies in the tavern when they arrived, two others died at the local clinic, one died in the hospital and one died on the way to the hospital.

Forensic personnel load the bodies of victims after the death of patrons found at the Enyobeni Tavern, in Scenery Park, outside East London in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa, on June 26, 2022.

Forensic personnel load the bodies of victims after the death of patrons found at the Enyobeni Tavern, in Scenery Park, outside East London in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa, on June 26, 2022.
(REUTERS/Stringer)

The owner, Siyahangela Ngewu, told eNCA that he was called in by security because the tavern was in “chaos”.

“It was full right at the gate, some kids broke in and it was difficult for the guards to control the situation,” he told South African television, according to a translation of the interview. “I sympathize with the people who have lost their loved ones. I didn’t want this to happen. I ask that we calm down and let the police do their job and take her out of there.”

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Published images and videos in social networks showed a distraught crowd of onlookers at the tavern on Sunday.

People stand behind a police cordon outside a nightclub in East London, South Africa, Sunday, June 26, 2022.

People stand behind a police cordon outside a nightclub in East London, South Africa, Sunday, June 26, 2022.
(AP photo)

Police Minister General Beki Sele said investigators were looking into “enforcement of alcohol laws.”

“We have an experienced team that complements the provincial team to make sure we get to the bottom of what led to the death of these young people,” Sele said in a statement.

The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18.

Forensic personnel investigate the death of patrons found at the Enyobeni Tavern, in Scenery Park, outside East London in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, June 26, 2022.

Forensic personnel investigate the death of patrons found at the Enyobeni Tavern, in Scenery Park, outside East London in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, June 26, 2022.
(REUTERS/Stringer)

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The office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also offered condolences to the families and said the investigation would reveal what happened.

“The President is, however, concerned about reports of circumstances under which such young people have been gathered in a place that, at first glance, should be closed to those under 18,” Ramaphos said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.