Investigation underway into deaths of at least 21 people found inside South African nightclub
Cause of deaths unknown; patrons were reportedly celebrating end of school exams
South African police were investigating the deaths of at least 21 people at a nightclub in the coastal town of East London early Sunday and authorities said most of the victims were minors as young as 13 years old.
It is unclear what led to the deaths of the young people, who were reportedly attending a party to celebrate the end of winter school exams.
Local newspaper Daily Dispatch reported that bodies were strewn across tables and chairs in the Enyobeni Tavern without any visible signs of injuries.
Police were alerted by members of the public to the incident in Scenery Park, about three kilometres from the city centre, said Brig. Tembinkosi Kinana.
"At this point we cannot confirm the cause of death," said health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana.
"We are going to conduct autopsies as soon as possible to establish the probable cause of death. The deceased have been taken to state mortuaries."
Expressing his condolences to affected families, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement he is "concerned about the reported circumstances under which 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."
Ramaphosa said the law must take its course once investigations conclude.
Bheki Cele, the national police minister, said the victims' ages ranged from 13 to 17.
"The call is on the parents to see that their kids are kept well, the call is on the community to say we can't allow our kids to die," Cele told a large crowd in Scenery Park during a visit broadcast live on television.
The owner of the club, Siyakhangela Ndevu, told local broadcaster eNCA that he had been called to the scene early Sunday morning.
"I am still uncertain about what really happened, but when I was called in the morning, I was told the place was too full and that some people were trying to force their way into the tavern," he said.
"However, we will hear what the police say about the cause of death."
With files from Reuters