EAST LONDON, South Africa: At least 20 young people have died in a makeshift nightclub in a township in South Africa’s southern city of East London, but the cause of death is still unclear.
Senior provincial government officials rushed to the scene, where at least six morgue vehicles were waiting in the residential street to collect the bodies, an AFP correspondent reported.
Drinking is allowed in South African township pubs, commonly known as sheebens or taverns sometimes even located in family homes, where safety regulations are rarely observed.
“The number has risen to 20, three have died in hospital. But there are still two who are very critical,” the head of the provincial security department Weziwe Tikana-Gxothiwe said on local TV.
A visibly shocked Eastern Cape province chief Oscar Mabuyane, spoke from outside the scene, a building surrounded by houses in an area called Scenery Park.
“It is absolutely unbelievable, we cannot understand to lose twenty young lives just like that,” he said, condemning “this unfortunate consumption, the unlimited consumption of spirits”.
“You can’t just act in the middle of society and think that young people aren’t going to experiment,” he said.
‘NO OBVIOUS SIGN OF INJURY’
Provincial police spokesman Brigadier General Thembinkosi Kinana told AFP that police were investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident.
He said the victims at the Enyobeni Tavern were between the ages of 18 and 20.
The provincial community and security department official, Unathi Binqose, spoke from the scene, ruling out a stampede as the cause of death.
“It’s hard to believe it’s a stampede as there are no visible open wounds for the dead,” Binqose told AFP by phone.
A local newspaper website, DispatchLive, reported that “bodies are scattered across tables, chairs and on the floor, with no apparent signs of injury”.
Unverified photos shared on social media also showed bodies with no visible signs of wounds.
Local television showed police officers trying to calm a crowd of parents and onlookers gathered outside the club in the city, which lies on the coast of the Indian Ocean, nearly 1,000 km south of Johannesburg.
“Parents whose children didn’t sleep at home are gathered here and want to go into the tavern to look for their loved ones,” Binqose says.
He said he understood that the patrons were students “celebrating their pens, a party held after writing (high school) exams”.