South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a eulogy on Wednesday for 21 teenagers who died in a bar last month under mysterious circumstances.
Investigators said the teens were likely poisoned by something they ingested, while some reports indicated a gas leak may be responsible.
Colorful bouquets adorned the coffins of 19 of the victims. All were empty, according to the Reuters news agency, as police were still investigating the causes of the deaths.
Reuters reported that the other two victims had already been buried by their families.
More than a week ago, the lifeless bodies of the 21 youngsters, the youngest of whom was just 13, were found slumped on chairs and tables in an east London bar, while others died on the dance floor.
For the funeral on Wednesday, a massive tent was erected on the Scenery Park sports field. Relatives and friends paid their respects.
“He loved sports. He played football at school,” one person said of a victim. “He passed away suddenly on June 26, 2022. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends and all who cared for him. known.”
In his eulogy, Ramaphosa said that while the cause of death was still unknown, the tragedy brought to light underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
“Today we shed bitter tears for the 21 young lives we lost,” he said. “We need to ensure that justice is done for them. We don’t want more parents getting a call in the middle of the night about the death of their child. Or being asked to come and identify their deceased child at because of alcohol abuse. We don’t want any parent to go through that kind of pain anymore.
He said since the tragedy there have been calls for the legal drinking age to be raised from 18 to 21. And he said he thinks there should be a national debate about it.
He also called on alcohol traders not to target young people.
“Many years ago, when the government embarked on a program to reduce the harm caused by tobacco cigarettes, the government was heavily criticized and met with enormous resistance,” Ramaphosa said. . “Today we take it for granted that anti-tobacco laws exist and they are respected by the majority of our people. A similar approach with the necessary interventions is needed to reduce the harms of alcohol abuse among our young people. .
The president also called on mayors to create committees to examine drug addiction in all municipalities across the country.
He also called for better enforcement of the country’s laws.
“We mourn with you and we will walk this road with you,” Ramaphosa said. “What you can be sure of is that following this tragedy, we will act as a government.”
A stampede was ruled out as the cause of death, but it was unclear how long the investigation into the cause of death would take.