- The Eastern Cape Liquor Board said it was shocked to learn that schoolchildren were among those who died at Enyobeni Tavern on Sunday.
- Twelve young men and nine girls died.
- The Liquor Board says it will open a criminal case and revoke the outlet's liquor licence.
The Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) intends to lay criminal charges against and revoke the liquor licence of East London-based Enyobeni Tavern, where 21 young patrons mysteriously died in the early hours of Sunday morning.
The nation has been horrified by images of the bodies of those who died, strewn across the tavern dance floor, on tables and in chairs.
Eastern Cape police are still probing the cause of the deaths but speculation that they died of a lack of oxygen at the overcrowded tavern is rife on social media.
Others suspect that their drinks were laced with poison.
Tavern owner Siyakhangela Ndevu told journalists on Sunday that he was not at the venue when the tragedy occurred and that he was as shocked as the rest of the community.
President Cyril Ramaphosa conveyed his condolences to the families of the deceased. He said the tragedy was even more grave because it occurred during Youth Month – a time when the country celebrates young people, and advocates for and advances opportunities for their improved socio-economic conditions.
The ECLB said the tavern had a valid liquor trading licence which allowed it to sell alcohol for sit-down and takeaway purposes.
ECLB chief executive officer Dr Nombuyiselo Makala said:
Makala said the ECLB had learnt with shock that some of the deceased were scholars who were under the age of 18.
The board condemned the incident in the strongest possible terms, Makala added.
"As the board, we have always been forthright in our condemnation and fight against the sale of alcohol to the underage. We have also consistently taken every necessary step against any liquor outlet that is found to have sold alcohol to the underage," Makala said.
Makala said the ECLB was deeply pained by the incident and conveyed its heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased.
"We continue to urge communities to report to the ECLB or SAPS any suspicious practices by the liquor outlets within their proximity."
The liquor board said that invariably, community members have a significant role to play in monitoring and reporting liquor outlets that wittingly or unwittingly flout trading conditions.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said the youngest of the patrons was 13 years old.
Cele broke down while addressing grieving parents at Woodbrook Mortuary in East London on Sunday.
Eastern Cape police said the incident was reported to the police in the early hours of Sunday at around 04:00 by members of the community.
"Police do not want to [speculate] regarding the cause of the incident as that may risk [or jeopardise] the sensitive investigation that is under way," the police said in a statement.
Anyone who wishes to report liquor law violations, including the sale of liquor to underage children, are urged to dial 080 000 0420 toll free or send a message to the WhatsApp line on 076 403 6223.
Ndevu could not be reached for comment on Monday morning. His comment will be added once received.
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