JOHANNESBURG SOUTH, South Africa — 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 without any visible signs of injuries.
“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."
Police minister Bheki Cele said the victims’ ages ranged from 13 to 17, raising questions about why the underaged teenagers were being served alcohol.
Police Minister Bheki Cele was on Sunday morning expected to visit the scene.
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,” Ndevu added.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to the victims' families on Twitter early Sunday.
"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," he tweeted.