21 teenagers mysteriously found dead in South African nightclub

South African officials are still investigating the cause of the deaths

Today's expression: Pass out
Explore more: Lesson #488
July 25, 2022:

Twenty-one teenagers were tragically found dead in a South African nightclub after they were out celebrating the end of the school term. One survivor said she smelled a bad odor in the nightclub, but weeks later, authorities still do not know for sure what happened. Plus, learn “pass out.”

Be your best self in English

Move confidently through the English-speaking world

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptActivitiesDig deeperYour turn
No translationsEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

South Africa is asking: what killed twenty-one teenagers, all at the same club, all on the same night?

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, it’s Jeff and this is Plain English lesson number 488. JR has uploaded the full lesson content to PlainEnglish.com/488.

A sad topic today: Twenty-teenagers celebrating the end of the school term all died in a nightclub in a village in South Africa. And weeks after the tragedy, authorities still do not know for sure what happened. In the second half of today’s lesson, I’ll show you what it means to “pass out.” And we have a quote of the week. Let’s get started.

Mystery death of teens in South Africa

At the end of June, kids in South Africa were celebrating the end of the school term. They have a tradition called a “pens down” party—it’s a party on the night after the last exams.

Scenery Park is a small village on the outskirts of East London, a city on Africa’s southern coast. And on the night of June 26, local teenagers were having a pens down party at the Enyobeni Tavern, a run-down, two-story bar and nightclub. Twenty-one of them are now dead, and nobody knows why.

At four o’clock in the morning on Sunday, June 27, police were called to the nightclub. When they got there, seventeen teenagers were already dead. Four more teens were rushed to the hospital, where they, too, died, bringing the death toll to 21. The youngest victim was just 13 years old.

The most likely cause of a mass death at a nightclub is a stampede, and authorities first suspected that is what happened here. But the victims’ bodies showed no signs of being trampled. Their positioning, too, cast doubt on the idea of a stampede. The bodies weren’t crowded by an exit, or even crowded together. Instead , they were strewn haphazardly on the floor, on tables, and on chairs.

Teens who were at the club said they saw their friends collapse unexpectedly. In the chaos, some were able to flee the building. They recalled feeling dizzy, more so than they would be from just the alcohol alone.

Thirty-one other partygoers were hospitalized on Saturday night with a range of symptoms including back aches, tight chests, vomiting, and headaches.

What could have happened? There are several possibilities. The kids may all have taken the same drugs. They may have been drinking illicit alcohol. Homemade or illicit alcohol can contain high levels of ethanol, methanol, or other toxic substances that can, in some cases, lead to death. Another possible scenario is that the victims were asphyxiated by gas. This could have come from a gas leak or from a generator producing carbon monoxide.

Accounts from the survivors shed some light on what happened, but they are not definitive. Some said they thought the people collapsed from simply drinking too much alcohol. Others recalled trying to escape from a suffocating smell. They said people were begging to leave, saying they couldn’t breathe. One twenty-two-year-old said he was at the party earlier in the night and that someone closed the doors to the party and released either tear gas or pepper spray. He said the doors were closed and there was no way out.

One survivor said she passed out , then regained consciousness when someone poured water on her. A staff member thought the people on the ground were simply drunk, so he poured water on them to wake them up.

The club was a party scene that night. The DJ said that, earlier in the night, crowds were pushing their way in from the outside and that the bouncers had lost control of the crowd. He tried shutting off the music to control the crowd, but people kept pushing their way in, he said.

The government has declined to speculate about the cause until the results of their forensic investigation. The autopsies have all been completed; however, results from toxicology exams are still pending.

While South Africa waits for answers, parents, family, friends, and neighbors are saying goodbye. Two young victims were buried shortly after their bodies were released. An overflow crowd attended a symbolic funeral with 19 empty caskets, representing the other victims. Classmates attended in their school uniforms. Candles illuminated photos of the victims. South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, delivered a eulogy. The caskets were empty, at the request of the parents. The nineteen other children were later buried in private ceremonies.

The tragedy also shines an uncomfortable spotlight on South Africa’s culture of underage drinking. Under the law, nobody younger than age 18 can be served alcohol. However, it’s an open secret in South Africa that this is rarely enforced and neighbors say the Enyobeni Tavern had a reputation for repeatedly flouting the law. All the victims were underage, ranging from 13 to 17 years old. Ramaphosa said that South Africa needs to have a “frank conversation” about how underage drinking has been normalized and how laws are not enforced.

The local liquor board has opened an investigation into the tavern owners on the matter of serving alcohol to minors. No charges or accusations have yet been filed in connection with the deaths. The tavern has been temporarily shut down.

Sad in so many ways

This is sad in so many ways. I saw an interview with a local teenager and she said that there are so few opportunities in the area, all people do is drink. And this place, the Enyobeni Tavern, apparently had a reputation for openly selling alcohol to very young kids. The youngest victim was 13!

And an interesting thing is that a lot of other people were at that club. Not all of them were underage. In fact , a lot of the survivors were over 18, some already 22. And nobody there thought, either, that a 13 year old shouldn’t be at a packed nightclub. So a “frank conversation” is definitely in order because, yes, the law failed, the enforcement of the law failed, but the culture failed too.

Just a quick heads up: By the time you hear this, there might be toxicology results and more answers. If that’s the case, then I’ll post the latest information to our Facebook group, which you can join at PlainEnglish.com/Facebook .

Learn English the way it’s really spoken

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

QuizListeningPronunciationVocabularyGrammar

Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership


Starter feature

Test your listening skills

Make sure you’re hearing every word. Listen to an audio clip, write what you hear, and get immediate feedback


Starter feature

Upgrade your pronunciation

Record your voice, listen to yourself, and compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s

Starter feature

Sharpen your listening

Drag the words into the correct spot in this interactive exercise based on the Plain English story you just heard


Starter feature

Improve your grammar

Practice choosing the right verb tense and preposition based on real-life situations



Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership

Plus+ feature

Practice sharing your opinion

Get involved in this story by sharing your opinion and discussing the topic with others

Expression: Pass out