WHEN their children left home for a pens-down party, parents thought they would see them again.
But they later heard that at least 21 teenagers had died at a local tavern, allegedly from a suspected poisonous gas.
AND WHEN THEY RUSHED TO THE SCENE, THEY WERE TOLD THEY WOULD HAVE TO WAIT TO IDENTIFY THE BODIES AT THE MORTUARY AND LEARN IF THEIR KIDS WOULD EVER RETURN HOME.
Tensions ran high at the tavern in Scenery Park, East London, on Sunday, 26 June as worried parents gathered to learn if their children were among the dead. They were told they would only be able to identify the bodies once they reached Woodbrook Mortuary.
A visibly emotional Police Minister Bheki Cele visited the scene. He argued with parents, telling them they had to look after their children and exercise responsibility. This was because the majority of victims were underage.
It is alleged that hundreds of children were exposed to some kind of poisonous gas as they celebrated the end of the school term.
Cele said: “From what we see here, it does not look like a stampede, hence we brought our forensic team from Pretoria to focus on what transpired at the tavern.”
Provincial police spokesman Brigadier Thembinkosi Kinana confirmed that Scenery Park police were investigating inquest dockets after around 20 people, aged between 13 and 20, were found dead inside a local tavern.
“Initially, the number of deaths was thought to be 17 but by midday, it had risen to 21 after those who were rushed to a nearby clinic and later hospital died,” he said.
He said the incident was reported on Sunday at around 4am. “Police do not want to speculate regarding the cause of the incident as that may jeopardise the investigation,” he said.
Eastern Cape Liquor Board spokesman Mgwebi Msiya said they didn’t know the cause of the incident and were waiting for the police to conclude their investigation. He said: “We have a comprehensive underage drinking campaign, which is aimed at alleviating the scourge of underage drinking at schools. Our campaign needs the collaboration and partnership of all parents and members of the community to curb this abhorrent behaviour.”
Social development department spokesman Mzukisi Solani said he could not comment until the cause of the incident was confirmed.
“We are calling on the liquor board to strengthen their engagement with tavern owners and explain the Liquor Act,” he said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa sent his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. “This tragedy is made even more grave by its occurrence during Youth Month, a time during which we celebrate young people and advocate and advance opportunities for improved socio-economic conditions for the youth of our nation,” he said.
The president’s spokesman Vincent Magwenya said the president was concerned about the reported circumstances under which young people were gathered at a venue which should be off-limits to those under 18.
“The president expects the law to take its course following investigations into the tragedy,” he said.
Families who lost their loved ones were too devastated to talk to the People’s Paper. – Daily Sun