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Samples sent to toxicology lab after 21 teenagers found dead in South African nightclub

Forensic samples taken from 21 underage teenagers who died in a mysterious incident at a South African nightclub are being sent for analysis, police have said.

The bodies of many of the victims, including a 13-year-old, were discovered by police lying on tables, slumped over chairs and sprawled on the floor of the club in the early hours of Sunday.

The teenagers were reportedly celebrating the end of school exams.

Police say the investigation into the deaths at the Enyobeni Tavern, in the city of East London in Eastern Cape province, is ongoing and no cause of death has been established.

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The victims were aged between 13 and 17, police said.

While initial reports speculated that the teenagers may have died in a stampede because of overcrowding, authorities found no visible injuries on the bodies.

Police minister Bheki Cele said forensic samples taken from the victims were being sent to a toxicology laboratory in Cape Town, indicating that officers were investigating whether the victims had ingested a poison or toxin.

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Mr Cele added that the toxicology tests might take “a lot of time.”

Provincial safety official Unathi Binqose told the Daily Maverick newspaper the victims may have ingested a toxic substance through alcohol they were drinking or through hookah pipes, which were being smoked at the party.

Police said they were called to the nightclub at around 4am on Sunday after receiving a report there were “lifeless bodies” there and walked in on a grim scene with 17 teenagers found dead on the spot.

Two more died at a local clinic, one died on the way to the hospital and one at the hospital.

Image:
Emergency service vehicles on the scene in Scenery Park

The teenagers were reportedly celebrating the end of mid-year exams, a local DJ’s birthday and the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions in South Africa, announced earlier in the week.

Parents were asked to go to a mortuary to identify their children.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is in Germany for the G7 summit, offered condolences to the families in a statement, but also said he was concerned why “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”.

It is illegal for anyone under 18 to consume alcohol in South Africa and residents and community leaders have called for the nightclub to be shut down.

The tragedy will put renewed scrutiny on the many bars and nightclubs operating in poor neighbourhoods in South Africa which are often criticised for not abiding by liquor laws.

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