At Least 21 Teens Died After Celebrating At A South African Tavern

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Police in South Africa have launched an investigation after dozens of teens died during a night out at a township tavern. According to CBS News, at least 21 people died at the tavern in East London on Saturday, but the cause of death is still unknown. The teens are believed to be students who were celebrating the end of their high school exams.

Police said there were no visible wounds on the bodies and they have ruled out a stampede as a possible cause. Autopsies will determine if the deaths could be linked to poisoning, police said. As mortuary vehicles collected the bodies, family and friends gathered outside the tavern to find their loved ones.

“This child, we were not thinking was going to die this way. This was a humble child, respectful,” Ntombizonke Mgangala, a grieving mother, told reporters while standing next to her husband outside the morgue.

Police Minister Bheki Cele broke down in tears while speaking to the media.

“It’s a terrible scene,” Cele told reporters. “They are pretty young. When you are told they are 13 years, 14 years and you go there and you see them. It breaks [you].”

Government officials said eight girls and 13 boys died. Seventeen were found dead inside the tavern while the rest died at a hospital.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sent his condolences from Germany, where he’s attending the G-7 summit. The president said he is concerned 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.”

Provincial prime minister Oscar Mabuyane condemned the “unlimited consumption of liquor.”

“You can’t just trade in the middle of society like this and think that young people are not going to experiment,” Mabuyane told reporters.

According to Unathi Binqose, a safety government official, empty bottles of alcohol, wigs and a “Happy Birthday” sash were found outside the tavern.

“Forensic (investigators) will take samples and test to see if there was any poisoning of any sort,” Binqose said, adding that the bar was overcrowded.