More than a thousand grieving family and community members are attending the funeral in South Africa’s East London forin a mysterious tragedy at a nightclub nearly two weeks ago.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was to give the eulogy for the young who died.
Mournful hymns were sung by a large choir as 19 coffins were carried into a large tent where the service is being held in East London’s Scenery Park township. Two families held private burials and the service organizers said the caskets on display were empty, in respect of the wishes of some families. The children are to be buried in various cemeteries later Wednesday and in the coming days, they said.
As the tent filled to capacity, many more mourners sat outside.
It’s still not known what caused the, aged between 13 and 17, whose bodies were found in the Enyobeni tavern. All were under the legal drinking age of 18 in South Africa. Pathologists are studying the cause of death from blood samples. A stampede has been ruled out because the victims’ bodies did not show serious injuries, police said.
Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, who was hired by the bar to promote an alcohol brand, said last week she was still “confused” but felt lucky to be alive.
She said she struggled to escape through a door gridlocked with people.
“We tried moving through the crowd, shouting ‘please let us through,’ and others were shouting ‘we are dying, guys,’ and ‘we are suffocating’ and ‘there are people who can’t breathe’,” she told AFP .
“I passed out at that moment. I was running out of breath and there was a strong smell of some type of spray on in the air. We thought it was pepper spray,” she said.
She later regained consciousness after someone sprayed water on her.
“I got up and realized that there were bodies lying around. I saw people being poured water, but those people did not even move,” she said in a phone interview. “I could have died.”
A somber mood hangs over the neighborhood surrounding the rundown tavern, where some residents have placed wreaths and flowers. Authorities have closed the bar, amid questions of how so many underage teenagers could have gathered in an establishment selling alcohol after midnight on June 26.
Community members say there is a well-known problem of underage drinking.
Ramaphosa’s address at the service comes as he faces several challenges including South Africa’s extended power cuts, wide-ranging allegations of corruption and questions about large amounts of cash reportedly found hidden in furniture in his own game farm.
In addition to Ramaphosa’s eulogy, the funeral service is to include hymns by local choirs and addresses by family representatives, religious and community leaders.
AFP contributed to this report.