At least 21 teenagers, the youngest possibly just 13, died at the weekend after a night out at a township tavern in South Africa, in a tragedy whose cause remains unclear.
Many are thought to have been students celebrating the end of their high-school exams on Saturday night, provincial officials said.
There were no visible wounds on the bodies.
Officials have ruled out a stampede as a possible cause and said autopsies would determine if the deaths could be linked to poisoning.
Crowds of people, including parents whose children were missing, gathered yesterday outside the tavern where the tragedy happened in the city of East London, while mortuary vehicles collected the bodies, an AFP correspondent saw.
Senior government officials rushed to the southern city.
They included national Police Minister Bheki Cele, who broke down in tears after emerging from a morgue where the bodies were being stored.
“It’s a terrible scene,” he told reporters. “They are pretty young. When you are told they are 13 years, 14 years and you go there and you see them.
It breaks (you).”
The provincial government of Eastern Cape said eight girls and 13 boys had died.
Seventeen were found dead inside the tavern. The rest died in hospital.
“We have a child that was there, who passed away on the scene,” said the parents of a 17-year-old boy.
“This child, we were not thinking was going to die this way. This was a humble child, respectful,” said grieving mother Ntombizonke Mgangala, standing next to her husband outside the morgue.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is attending the G7 summit in Germany, sent his condolences.
He voiced concern “about the reported circumstances under which 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”.
The authorities are now considering whether to revise licencing regulations.
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, yesterday.