Mass funeral for South African teenagers who died in tavern
Workers carry an empty coffin at a funeral parlour ahead of the mass funeral for victims of an east coast tavern where bodies of youth were found which prompted nationwide grief, in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The cause of death of the 21 Eastern Cape youths, who died at an East London tavern in June, is not clear, authorities said on Tuesday.

Initial laboratory toxicology tests have produced inconclusive results, the Eastern Cape provincial government and Police Ministry said at a briefing.

Enyobeni tavern tragedy poilice briefing
Enyobeni tavern tragedy poilice briefing. Photo: SA News

The teenagers, aged between 13 and 17, mysteriously died in the early hours of 26 June at the Enyobeni tavern in the metro. Laboratory tests were conducted after initial investigations ruled out a stampede as a possible cause of death.

The owner of the tavern and two employees of the establishment have since been arrested for contravening liquor trading regulations. They will reappear in court on 19 August.


Vuyokazi Ndevu, the owner of Enyobeni tavern walks in front of a police officer ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London
Vuyokazi Ndevu, the owner of Enyobeni tavern, an east coast tavern where bodies of youth were found which prompted nationwide grief, walks in front of a police officer ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 5, 2022. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

During a press briefing by the Eastern Cape Office of the Premier and the Police Ministry, Dr Litha Matiwane, the province’s Deputy Director-General for clinical services revealed the initial toxicology lab test results.

He said: “Post mortems were done on that day. We then took toxicology samples that were sent to labs in Cape Town – it was mainly blood, gastric and toxicology samples. We have now received the initial blood results from the lab.”

The first three findings were for blood alcohol, carbon monoxide and methanol levels.

For blood alcohol levels, the levels ranged from 0.05g to 0.26gs.

This, he said, in itself was not conclusive of lethal toxicology.

“So, at this point in time, [we] can then say that this may have not been the cause of death.

“The second layer of results that came through was that of carbon monoxide, which was also ranging at 3.3% to 21% saturation. Under normal circumstances, we expect toxicology to be above 50%. So, again, the understanding is that this might not yet be the final cause that we are looking at as lethal toxicology.

“The last part that we were looking at this point in time is methanol. Methanol has been detected in all the 21 individuals that [were] there… However, there is a progressing analysis of the levels of methanol. The quantitative analysis says there was methanol in their bodies but we still need to get quantitative levels. It will then tell us if these were at lethal or non-lethal.”

Eastern Cape Premier, Oscar Mabuyane, said the incident has shattered and devastated the province.

“This must not happen again. We have to be meticulous in this matter,” he said.

Support for families

He said psycho-social support for the families is ongoing.

“Today I realised that more effort is needed… We need to increase the tempo and momentum of being close to the families. It is painful when a parent says this was my only child and there is no hope of having another at my age.

Mass funeral planned for South African teenagers who died in tavern
Neighbours and family members sing church hymns next to Asanda Monelo, ahead of a mass funeral in the Eastern Cape province, in East London, South Africa, July 5, 2022. Monelo lost her 17-year-old son Aluncedo at an east coast tavern, where bodies of youth were found, which prompted nationwide grief. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“It is deeply painful. Government is there with all the support. We continue interacting and we’ve already identified where it is that we need to go and where to support. We will be providing pin-pointed support targeting certain families so that they are able to acclimatise and accept what they cannot change.”

Police Minister Bheki Cele said a special police task team is investigating an inquest docket.

“We committed to walk with families and the community. We’ve spoken to families and there is still a lot of pain but I think they will appreciate that we are taking everybody on board.

“Some people have been arrested and will appear again in court on the 19th of August to go and explain themselves. Police are here because we take this matter very seriously. We hope that as the case continues, [we] will find out what really happened on that day.”

Cele did not rule out the possibility of further arrests. – SAnews.gov.za

Carte Blanche investigates Tavern of Terror

Carte Blanche recently investigated the ‘Tavern of Terror’. The current affairs show said while the cause of the youngsters’ deaths remains unconfirmed, one question lingers: why were children as young as 13 out drinking at a tavern? If you’re abroad, you can stream this episode overseas in most countries.