At dawn on Sunday, the bodies of 17 young people, some of whom were only 13 years old, were found in a “shebeen” (township bar, poor suburb) in East London in the south of the country. Four died later in hospital. Thirteen boys, eight girls in total, no apparent injuries.

Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, a survivor, told AFP about the crowd, the lack of air: “I passed out. I was out of breath, there was a strong smell, a kind of spray. We We thought of pepper spray”.

The young woman reached by telephone, who was working that evening for a brand of alcohol, regained consciousness when she received water in the face. “There were bodies lying around. Some sprayed them with water but they didn’t even move.”

According to the DJ, Luhlemela Ulana, the situation in the crowded room of the two-storey building had become “unmanageable”. He remembers having tried in vain to calm the revelers by stopping the music.

“We tried to close the door but people kept pushing. The bouncers couldn’t handle the crowd,” he said. The owner of the bar, called in the night from Saturday to Sunday, spoke of a stampede. He faces prosecution.

– “Under 18” –

Alcohol intoxication, poisoning, several tracks are for the moment evoked on the origin of the deaths. Autopsies are underway, authorities said.

A total of 31 people were taken to hospital. Vomiting, headaches, some complained of back and chest pain. Two people are still hospitalized.

“Samples were taken and flown today to Cape Town”, 800 km west of East London, where tests including toxicology are to be carried out, said Unathi Binqose, a government representative in charge of questions. of security.

A special team of investigators was sent from Pretoria. So far, the police have not made any arrests. According to the authorities, most of the victims are students celebrating their end-of-semester exam results.

On Sunday, parents and relatives of the missing young people gathered in front of the bar, while mortuary cars transported the bodies to the morgue.

The police minister, in tears, described “terrible” images after seeing the bodies. President Cyril Ramaphosa regretted that teenagers had been admitted “to a place which, on the face of it, should be prohibited for people under 18”.

In South Africa, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited for those under the age of 18. But the legislation is not always applied, especially in informal bars.

“Shebeens” were illegal drinking establishments under apartheid. They are now authorized or tolerated in the townships, former black ghettos.

The head of the African Union Commission, Chadian Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted his sadness and addressed his prayers “at this time of untold sorrow and pain”.