Cape Town - Police Minister Bheki Cele has declared war on liquor outlets that do not comply with the law following the shocking death of 21 teenagers at the Enyobeni tavern in East London on Sunday.
It has been determined that the deceased, between the ages of 13 and 17, are school children who were at the outlet to celebrate the end of June school exams.
While the cause of death is yet to be confirmed, there are claims that they may have been exposed to some form of poison, while other reports say a stampede broke out after security used teargas or pepper spray in an attempt to disperse patrons.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said they did not want to speculate about the cause of the incident as this may jeopardise the investigation.
“On Sunday morning at about 4am police from the Scenery Park Police Station received a report of the lifeless bodies of the teenagers at a local tavern in the area. Upon arrival police found seventeen bodies inside the building. It was later established two more died at a local clinic, one died en route to hospital and another died in hospital. Nine of the deceased are female while twelve of the deceased are male. Police have since registered an inquest into the death of the teenagers,” said Kinana.
Desperate parents and family members were begging to enter the premises while calling out the names of their missing loved ones in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The families were requested to visit the mortuary to assist in identifying their children.
Nandipha Tyutywana, whose 17-year-old daughter was among those who survived, said she was beyond grateful.
“I am feeling so much better now. I am with my daughter in hospital. We don’t know what happened. They went to the tavern and apparently there was poison there. I am grateful she survived. This is my only child. I am just heartbroken for all the families whose children have passed on,” she said.
Visiting the area on Sunday, Cele said they will come back to inspect shebeens in the area.
“We need to check if they adhere to the laws but that is on us as police to ensure this happens. The call is on the government as the liquor board, the municipalities and the parents to ensure their kids are well. The call is on the community to say we can’t allow our kids to die,” he said.
Cele and National Police Commissioner General Fannie Masemola led a high level delegation of crime scene experts and bomb disposal technicians from the National Headquarters of the Criminal Record and Crime Scene Management Component to complement and support the Eastern Cape Crime Scene Investigations teams.
“They are a top team that will tell us if it was poison but we need to come back to this area to see what is happening in the shebeens and not only come back once they have killed our kids,” said Cele.
Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane has called for no stone to be left unturned in uncovering the cause of the tragedy.
“We call on parents and legal guardians not to abdicate their responsibility to their children or minor children entrusted in their care. As a parent myself, I am pained by this tragedy and cannot imagine losing a child in this manner. We grieve with parents and families at this hour and ask for your patience in getting to the facts around this tragic event. We are saddened by the loss of young lives, future leaders of our country, future breadwinners for their families, and for all the investments made by their families in them that now have evaporated in an instant,” he said.
Eastern Cape Liquor Board Spokesperson Mgwebi Msiya said the outlet had a legitimate liquor license.
“We have looked at this and indeed the liquor outlet does have a legitimate liquor license. We await the conclusion of the investigation that is being conducted by SAPS and we take the necessary steps,” Mgwebi said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences, adding that he was concerned that young people were gathered at a venue which, on the face of it, should be off limits to persons under the age of 18.
“This tragedy is made even more grave by its occurrence during Youth Month – a time during which we celebrate young people, advocate and advance opportunities for improved socio-economic conditions for the youth of our nation,” he said.
The owner of the tavern was reportedly advised to close his business until a full investigation was concluded.