The national police minister, Bheki Cele, told a local news channel from the scene that one victim was 13 years old, calling the incident a disaster. “When you look at their faces, you realize that we are dealing with kids,” Cele said.
Authorities initially considered whether a stampede may have been the cause of death, but “we cannot certainly say what happened for now,” Cele said Sunday as further tests were carried out on the bodies.
South Africa’s Daily Dispatch newspaper reported Sunday that bodies were discovered “lying bizarrely as if they collapsed to the floor suddenly while dancing or in the middle of a conversation.” The newspaper said its reporters had also seen bodies in chairs and lying over tables inside the venue “with no obvious signs of injury.”
The paper said it had chosen not to publish photographs taken at the scene.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa offered his “deepest condolences” to those who had lost loved ones.
“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,” Ramaphosa tweeted.
The young people gathered at the popular venue to celebrate the end of exams, according to the Associated Press, while locals said the venue was known for overcrowding and accused it of selling alcohol to underage attendees.
Promise Matinise, the Enyobeni Tavern’s entertainment manager, told the BBC on Monday that he saw people falling one after the other after bouncers struggled to control the large crowd inside. Matinise said he contacted the establishment’s owner once he realized some of the victims were not breathing.
In South Africa, the minimum drinking age is 18, although there have been calls to raise it to 21 in a bid to combat crime as well as alcohol and substance abuse.
Siyanda Manana, a spokesperson for the Eastern Cape provincial health department, told Reuters that the bodies of the victims would be taken to state mortuaries for identification. “We are going to immediately be embarking on autopsies so we can know the probable cause of death,” he said.