Survivor of South Africa Nightclub Tragedy — in Which at Least 21 Died — Says She Fainted Over 'Strong Smell'

·4 min read
Police and investigators put on protective clothing before going into a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London on June 26, 2022, after 20 teenagers died. - At least 20 teenagers, the youngest aged just 13 years, have died at a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London, but the cause of the deaths is still unclear. Crowds of people including parents whose children were missing gathered outside the tavern located along a street in a residential township as mortuary vehicles collected bodies, according to an AFP correspondent.
Police and investigators put on protective clothing before going into a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London on June 26, 2022, after 20 teenagers died. - At least 20 teenagers, the youngest aged just 13 years, have died at a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London, but the cause of the deaths is still unclear. Crowds of people including parents whose children were missing gathered outside the tavern located along a street in a residential township as mortuary vehicles collected bodies, according to an AFP correspondent.

STR/AFP via Getty Police and investigators at nightclub in East London on June 26, 2022

A survivor of the deadly nightclub tragedy in South Africa says she lost consciousness after she and other teenagers were overcome by a "strong smell" at the venue.

Sinovuyo Monyane, 19, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that she "passed out" early Sunday morning as a crowd of people desperately attempted to exit the Enyobeni Tavern at Scenery Park in East London, CBS News reported.

"I was running out of breath and there was a strong smell of some type of spray in the air," the woman told the news agency, per CBS News. "We thought it was pepper spray."

At least 21 teens — nine girls and 12 boys — died as a result of the tragedy, according to the South African Police Service (SAPS). An investigation into the incident is ongoing.

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Members of the community and family wait for news outside a township pub as a police officer talks on a phone in South Africa's southern city of East London
Members of the community and family wait for news outside a township pub as a police officer talks on a phone in South Africa's southern city of East London

STR/AFP via Getty Images Authorities outside the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London on Sunday after more than 20 people died.

Unathi Binqose, a spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Community Safety, previously told South Africa's Daily Maverick that forensic pathologists believe the teens consumed something that led to their deaths based on initial autopsy results.

"[They] said it was something they ingested, possibly from the beers they were consuming, or something they inhaled from those hubbly-bubblies [water pipes or hookahs] that they were smoking," Binqose told the outlet.

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Monyane told AFP that the scene became chaotic after people began smelling what was in the air. She and others in the crowd tried to leave while shouting "Please let us through!"; "We're dying guys"; "We are suffocating"; and "There are people who can't breathe."

Monyanen eventually passed out, but came to after she was sprayed with water, AFP reported, per CBS News. She thinks she "could have died."

"I got up and realized that there were bodies lying around," Monyane told AFP in a phone interview. "I saw people being poured water, but those people did not even move."

Members of the community and family wait for news outside a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London on June 26, 2022, after 20 teenagers died. - At least 20 teenagers, the youngest aged just 13 years, have died at a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London, but the cause of the deaths is still unclear. Crowds of people including parents whose children were missing gathered outside the tavern located along a street in a residential township as mortuary vehicles collected bodies, according to an AFP correspondent.
Members of the community and family wait for news outside a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London on June 26, 2022, after 20 teenagers died. - At least 20 teenagers, the youngest aged just 13 years, have died at a township pub in South Africa's southern city of East London, but the cause of the deaths is still unclear. Crowds of people including parents whose children were missing gathered outside the tavern located along a street in a residential township as mortuary vehicles collected bodies, according to an AFP correspondent.

STR/AFP via Getty Members of the community and family wait for news outside a nightclub in East London on June 26, 2022

National Police Minister Bheki Cele said the deaths occurred between 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. local time Sunday, per CBS News' report. He previously told reporters that toxicology labs in Cape Town would analyze samples from the bodies of the victims, according to CNN and USA Today.

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"The sight of those bodies sleeping there ... when you look at their faces you realize that you're dealing with kids, kids, kids," Cele said, per CBS News. "You've heard the story that they are young but when you see them you realize that it's a disaster. Twenty-one of them. Too many."

South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa offered his "deepest condolences" to the families of the victims, who died during South Africa's Youth Month, via Twitter on Sunday.

The 69-year-old politician also expressed concern about why "such young people were gathered at a venue which, on the face of it, should be off limits to persons under the age of 18."

It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to consume or buy alcohol in South Africa.

Forensic experts work outside a tavern for the death of teenagers in East London, South Africa
Forensic experts work outside a tavern for the death of teenagers in East London, South Africa

Oluthando Mthimkhulu/Xinhua via Getty Images Forensic experts outside a tavern in East London, South Africa.

In a news release Sunday, the Eastern Cape Liquor Board has said it was revoking Enyobeni Tavern's liquor license. The board also indicated plans to seek criminal charges against the club's license holder following the violation.

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"As the Board, we have always been forthright in our condemnation and fight against the sale of alcohol to the underage," Chief Executive Officer Dr. Nombuyiselo Makala said in the release. "We have also consistently taken every necessary step against any liquor outlet that is found to have sold alcohol to the underage."

"The call is on the parents to see that their kids are kept well, the call is on the community to say we can't allow our kids to die," National Police Minister Cele told a crowd of onlookers in Scenery Park after the incident, according to Reuters.

Enyobeni Tavern, which had promoted a Saturday night of "Hooka[h] food and alcohol" on its Facebook page prior to the event, did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment.

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