EAST LONDON, South Africa (AP) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to attend a funeral in east London on Wednesday for 21 teenagers who died in a mysterious tragedy in a pub nearly two weeks ago.
A large tent has been erected for the service, which hundreds of grieving family members and residents are expected to attend in the East London town of Signry Park.
“We expect them (the community) to be there. We expect them to mourn,” said Ondela Sukomani, the regional head of the youth league of South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress.
“There is a deep-rooted frustration with how things are managed in Seneri Park,” Sukumani said, referring to the minors’ drinking problems, drug abuse, crime, and the government’s failure to provide basic services to the impoverished residential area.
The cause of death of the young men, aged 13 and 17, whose bodies were found in the Ineobeni pub, is not yet known. All were under the age of 18 drinking in South Africa. Pathologists study the cause of death from blood samples. Police said a stampede was ruled out because the victims’ bodies did not show serious injuries.
A gloomy mood reigns in the neighborhood around the rundown tavern, where some residents have laid wreaths and flowers. Authorities closed the bar, amid questions about how many underage teens could congregate at an establishment selling alcohol after midnight on June 26.
Community members say there is a known problem with underage drinking.
The stench of alcohol still lingers inside the club as broken bottles of beer, cider and wine litter the floor. Police finished investigations into the pub, so it was no longer cordoned off as crime scene and security allowed reporters to briefly view the building.
Handbags, sneakers, and hair were also strewn on the floor, a nod to the chaos of that murderous night.
Ramaphosa will attend service amid numerous challenges including extended power outages in South Africa, widespread allegations of corruption, and questions about large amounts of cash allegedly hidden in furniture at the president’s toy farm.
In addition to Ramaphosa’s speech, the funeral service will include chants for local choirs and speeches by religious and community leaders.
After the mass, families will bury the bodies of the teenagers at various cemeteries in the area.