The Mysterious Deaths Of 21 South African Teens In The Summer Of 2022

What should have been a night of fun at the Enyobeni Tavern in East London, South Africa led to the inexplicable deaths of 21 young people, according to The New York Times. The VOA writes that on June 26, 2022, several teenagers were partying at the tavern to commemorate the end of their school exams. AP News reports that between 2 a.m. and 4.30 a.m., some of the teens attending the function suddenly passed out and subsequently died. DispatchLIVE describes it as a confusing scene. One moment, the teens were interacting with one another, the next, they were dead. Many were found on the dance floor or in chairs and couches, per AP News.

According to ABC News, the South African Police Service counted 17 dead teenagers when they arrived at the scene. Shortly after, four more died. NPR states that the victims were between the ages of 13 and 17. They included 12 boys and nine girls, per AP News. Although the legal drinking age in South Africa is 18, one unnamed 16-year-old witness told the BBC, "The venue was packed. Entrance was free ... and free alcohol was also being dished out. We started drinking and having fun with others." She added, "[The victims] were dropping like flies."

ABC News explains that investigators and parents were baffled by these deaths as the bodies of the victims did not show any apparent trauma. In September, it was announced that the 21 teens had died of asphyxiation, per The New York Times. Nevertheless, how this occurred remains unanswered.

Methanol was found in the teens' bodies

In July 2022, ABC News writes that a mass funeral was held for the 21 victims in East London, South Africa. That same month, The New York Times reported that methanol had been discovered in all of the victims. However, it's unknown how the toxic chemical, which is used as a pesticide, made its way into their bodies in the first place. NPR adds that investigators eliminated alcohol and carbon monoxide poisoning as causes of death. A stampede was also ruled out, per The New York Times. According to VICE, the families of the victims were later told that their loved ones had ultimately died of suffocation.

Despite this revelation, the authorities failed to disclose what had caused the 21 teens to suffocate, per Reuters. Khululekile Ncandana, the father of one of the victims, told VICE, "We don't trust this conclusion." He added, "We are not happy about the way the authorities have handled it. We hope that they will call some of the survivors to testify about what really happened there." Per The New York Times, survivors describe witnessing the tavern fill with gas. Via ABC News, patron Sibongile Mtsewu explained, "There was no way out." He added, "There was no chance to breathe."

An anonymous survivor spoke to Al Jazeera and said that on the night of the tragedy, the tavern was overcrowded with people. This prompted the security guards to ask patrons to leave and when they didn't, she notes that they shut the doors and unloaded some kind of gas into the establishment.

Three suspects were arrested

Al Jazeera writes that the anonymous survivor recounted the moment the gas was dispersed in the tavern. She told the publication, "I'm not sure if it was tear gas or pepper spray. Then some people died and I also fell asleep for three hours. Then when they woke us up, they also thought I was dead." The young girl, who is underage, also admitted that she was given alcohol. However, there are other theories regarding the tragedy. Reuters reported that a gas leak may have led to the 21 deaths. There is also the possibility that the tavern may have supplied the teens with counterfeit alcohol, per VICE.

VICE states that counterfeit alcohol is commonly found in South Africa and methanol is widely used to produce it. Months after that fateful June night, the families of the victims still don't understand the events that unfolded at the tavern, per The New York Times. The Citizen adds that officially, overcrowding was deemed the cause of their deaths. The authorities, on the other hand, have remained tight-lipped on the topic.

But as the VOA states, the families might get some justice after all. In July 2022, three people — one of the tavern's owners and two employees — were arrested for violating their liquor license by selling alcohol to minors. According to a different article from The New York Times, the unnamed employees were fined $117. Another article by The Citizen explains that owners Vuyokazi Ndevu and her spouse Siyakwamkela pleaded not guilty to these charges. Their trial is set to begin in April 2023.