Stampede ruled out after 21 teens die in East London tavern

Police minister Bheki Cele has brought a high-powered investigation team to probe the deaths of 21 minors at the Enyobeni tavern in Scenery Park, East London, during the early hours of Sunday.

The 21 are aged between 13 and 17 years old, some girls and the rest boys.

News of the deaths was reported internationally, with President Cyril Ramaphosa issuing a statement of condolences to the families.

Speculation on the cause of the death has been rife, with many allegations that it was as a result of a stampede that broke out.

But Cele all but ruled out the stampede theory as the cause of death, following a briefing by medical personnel.

Other theories were that the children had suffocated from teargas but although experienced police officers ruled this out, the rumour of a possible gas leak has not subsided.

Cele, who could not contain his emotions and sobbed uncontrollably during one of his speeches, said the investigators he brought from Pretoria would assist in fast tracking the investigation.

“We will be taking samples to toxicology in Cape Town which is more advanced,” said Cele.

He said the government would keep in touch with the families.

Cele said the team he had brought was to reinforce the Eastern Cape team dealing with the investigation.

“We want to make sure that the information that comes, everybody agrees on it,” said Cele, adding that his team from the national office brought extra experience.

Asked about the suspected cause of death, Cele did not say.

“It does look like the theory of a stampede is fading. There are other theories that are emerging but it looks like those would be scientific theories [and] I am not really qualified to talk on scientific theories until I’m told exactly what happened,” he said.

Earlier he broke down in tears as he addressed parents of the children outside the state mortuary in West Bank.

Many were visibly distraught, and loud cries could be heard coming from the morgue as loved ones were identified.

Ntombizonke Mgangala from Orange Grove, whose niece Sinothando Mgangala, 17, was one of the victims, said they had panicked the whole day, as they had to check several hospitals to locate her.

She had gone out with a friend the previous day as part of a “masks down, pens down” celebration.

“We were devastated. We couldn’t believe we were seeing our child there. We had to check several times. She was not one to go out,” she said.

She said they were not sure how they were going to bury the girl because they did not have anyone in their family who was employed.

Community members who spoke to DispatchLIVE said the tavern operated until the early hours of the morning.

One woman, who asked not to be named, said she usually passed by the tavern at about 6am and saw patrons still leaving the place.

“This place … closes at 6am every day. [It] should be closed down because those who did not die, will come back and drink here and they will die,” she said.

She said the community had complained about the place on numerous occasions because of stabbings and violence.

Nomthunzi Mbiko, another resident from the area, said there had been several community meetings about the tavern.

She said at the meeting residents had complained about underage drinking, but the owner said it was their responsibility to look after their children.

Throughout Sunday residents, some still in their sleepwear, surrounded the tavern looking for answers. Many had to be restrained by the police as they attempted to storm the tavern to identify loved ones.

One of the teenagers in the crowd, who apparently survived the incident, collapsed and had to be taken away by ambulance.

Other residents spoke of their frustration as some teenagers had left their phones at home when they went out.

Balloons were still seen hanging from the walls while a number of empty bottles, some broken, were scattered outside the place.

Video footage believed to have been taken before the deaths show a highly overcrowded venue, many of the patrons being minors.

However the tavern owner, Siyakhangela Ndevu, denied he allowed children into his place, as he had security who prevented those under age from accessing the premises.

“We get crowds which mainly stay outside; that’s where you see underage children,” he said.

Ndevu expressed sadness at the deaths and said he had not expected such an incident at his place.

He also apologised. “In future, we will be more careful,” he said, speaking in isiXhosa.

Several political leaders, including Ramaphosa, Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane, Buffalo City Metro mayor Xola Pakati and ActionSA provincial leader Athol Trollip said they were shocked.

Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to the families and also his concerns that underage children were allowed in the tavern.

“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 socioeconomic conditions for the youth of our nation,” he said.

Pakati called on law enforcement agencies to leave no stone unturned to ensure that those responsible were made to pay.

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board’s spokesperson, Mgwebi Msiya, said the board “deeply regretted” claims that the patrons were underage.

“We’ll wait until we have an official report from the SAPS as to who the deceased are, their ages, from which schools they came and what actually happened here,” he said.

“We’ll wait for the SAPS to complete their investigation and take it from there. We don’t want to jump the gun in terms of trying to explain what we don’t know.”

Mgwebi confirmed that the tavern did have a valid operating license. — Additional reporting by Mathew Field


Shocked residents and family members gather outside the tavern in Scenery Park.



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