Owner of South African bar where 21 teens died is arrested

Police said they arrested the owner and two other employees after 21 teenagers mysteriously died in a bar last month.

South Africa
A crowd gathers as forensic personnel investigate the June 26 deaths of young patrons in the Enyobeni Tavern, in Scenery Park, outside East London in the Eastern Cape province, South Africa [File: Reuters]

The owner of the bar in the South African coastal town of East London where 21 teenagers mysteriously died last month has been arrested, police in the Eastern Cape province said.

Provincial police said in a statement that the owner, aged 52, was arrested over the weekend, while two employees at the tavern were subsequently arrested on Tuesday.

Forensic teams are yet to reveal their conclusions on how the teens died, with a source close to the investigation saying one theory was a chemical or gas leak and authorities also investigating possible accidental poisoning.

The owner is now expected to appear before the East London Magistrates Court on August 19 to face charges after an investigation that focused on the alleged supply of alcohol to minors, the statement said.

“Just as we said in the beginning, investigation is a process and needs to be treated with extreme care,” Lieutenant-General Nomthetheleli Mene said in the statement.

There has been an outpouring of grief at the deaths at the nightspot in Scenery Park township, in a nation used to seeing casualties from a pervasive binge drinking culture. Angry mourners complained that weeks of calls to shut down the tavern went unheeded.


Mysterious deaths

The results of the investigations into the causes of the victims’ deaths are still pending.

A witness told Al Jazeera that when the venue got too crowded, the security guards started asking people to leave, while a sizable crowd outside was trying to force themselves inside to join the party. When the partygoers did not comply, one of the security guards closed the door and began spraying a substance into the crowd, she said.

The 17-year-old said the youngsters attended the party because they were informed that two local soap opera “celebrities” would be hosting it. A 14-year-old survivor also told local news outlet TimesLIVE that a “strong and suffocating smell erupted at the venue”.

Another local outlet, the regional newspaper, DispatchLive, reported that “bodies are lying strewn across tables, chairs and on the floor; with no obvious signs of injury”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies