Cape Town - Survivors of the Enyobeni tavern tragedy in which 21 young people died in mysterious circumstances in East London on Sunday have come forward, detailing the events that occurred hours before the bodies were discovered.
While a stampede has been ruled out, the cause of death is yet to be determined with speculation that the victims – most of them teenagers, the youngest only 13 – may have been exposed to some form of poison.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said police received a report of the discovery of the bodies at 4am on Sunday.
“The latest development now suggests that only one body remains unidentified in the local mortuary, and an appeal is made to parents or relatives who may have not seen their children since the past weekend to please make time to make enquiries at the mortuary,” Kinana said.
Parents whose children survived the incident but are still not feeling well have been called to take them to hospitals or clinics.
At the tavern, bodies were lying strewn across tables, chairs and on the floor, with no signs of injuries, according to reports.
A 17-year-old survivor said she was still struggling to come to terms with the incident. Detailing the events leading to the incident, she said: “We were told to wear black and white. It was a DJ's birthday party. While we were sitting inside at around 12am, someone sprayed pepper spray and we ran out. We didn't see who sprayed the pepper spray but we were told it was the owner and he wanted us to leave. We left and went to another place. When we came back again, the door was locked and the bouncer wouldn't let us in because it was already packed inside.
“I came back home and in the morning I saw on Facebook that some of the people who were there have died, most of them are my friends. I have been unable to sleep. This morning I couldn't go to school. I don't know what school will be like now,” she said.
Another survivor, a 19-year-old, said she thought she was going to die.
“We tried moving through the crowd, shouting ‘please let us through’, and others were shouting ‘we are dying, guys’, and ‘we are suffocating’ and ‘there are people who can't breathe’,” she told AFP.
“I passed out at that moment. I was running out of breath and there was a strong smell of some type of spray in the air. We thought it was pepper spray.”
Community Safety department spokesperson Unathi Binqose said the cause of death has not yet been determined.
“We do not have any feedback on the cause of death at the moment. That will be revealed by the results of the post-mortems,” Binqose said.
The Eastern Cape liquor board has since shut down the tavern.
Its spokesperson, Mgwebi Msiya, said the board would lodge a criminal complaint against the owner once the police had finalised the investigation.
“Necessary steps are being taken to deal with this liquor outlet including the immediate revocation of the liquor licence and laying criminal charges against the licence holder for the blatant contravention of the Eastern Cape Liquor Act that clearly stipulates that no alcohol shall be sold to persons under the age of 18,” he said.
The Buffalo City Metro has pledged to provide free grave sites to the grieving families. Funeral service provider Avbob has pledged to assist with the funerals as well as the donation of a coffin, including the transport of the deceased, for each family.
An emotional prayer service was held for the families on Monday.
A prayer service was held for 21 teens who died. Video: Bheki Radebe
South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) provincial head Eileen Carter said they were concerned about the proximity of taverns within the community.
“We are going to engage with the relevant stakeholders because we need to unpack what has happened here and how to prevent something like this from occurring again in the future,” she said.