Over 20 dead as tragedy hits South African nightclub

At least 22 people have been found dead inside a nightclub in South Africa amid claims they were poisoned. 

Police rushed to the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, a township in the southern city of East London, in the early hours of Sunday after receiving reports from the public.

Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said those killed in the club are believed to be aged between 18 and 20.

The Eastern Cape provincial community and safety department official Unathi Binqose ruled out a stampede as cause of death. He said he understood the patrons were students ‘celebrating pens down, a party held after writing (high school) exams’. 

However, regional newspaper DispatchLive reported claims those who died were exposed to some kind of poison. 

Empty bottles of alcohol, wigs and even a pastel purple ‘Happy Birthday’ sash lay strewn on the dusty street outside the double-storey Enyobeni Tavern, according to Unathi Binqose, a safety government official who arrived at the scene at dawn. 

Local reports suggest none of the bodies had any obvious wounds or injuries, ruling out suggestions that a stampede or similar tragic incident would have occurred.

Local media also reported: ‘Bodies are lying strewn across tables, chairs and on the floor; with no obvious signs of injury’. 

Crowds of people, including parents whose children were missing, gathered on Sunday outside the tavern where the tragedy happened in the city of East London, while mortuary vehicles collected the bodies.

Senior government officials rushed to the southern city. They included national Police Minister Bheki Cele, who broke down in tears after emerging from a morgue where the bodies were being stored.

‘It’s a terrible scene,’ he told reporters. ‘They are pretty young… It breaks (you).’

The provincial government of Eastern Cape said at least  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.
‘We have a child that was there, who passed away on the scene,’ said the parents of a 17-year-old girl.

‘This child, we were not thinking was going to die this way. This was a humble child, respectful,’ said grieving mother Ntombizonke Mgangala, standing next to her husband outside the morgue.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is attending the G7 summit in Germany, sent his condolences.

He voiced concern ‘about the reported circumstances under which such, young people were gathered at a venue which, on the face of it, should be off-limits to persons under the age of 18’.

The authorities are now considering whether to revise liquor licensing regulations. South Africa is among the countries in Africa where most alcohol is consumed.

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