South African authorities investigating the mysterious death of 21 youths last month at a bar in the Eastern Cape have detected methanol, a toxic industrial alcohol, in the deceased’s system. Medical experts have yet to conclude whether the amount of methanol was lethal, but say preliminary reports rule out poisoning from carbon monoxide or ethanol, the alcohol found in the drink.
Officials are unable to say when the final report will be available due to a backlog at the toxicology lab in Cape Town.
Some of the 21 teenagers, the youngest of whom was just 13, were celebrating the end of mid-year exams. Seventeen of them died on the spot, while the other four later died in hospitals.
Dr. Litha Matiwane, Deputy Director General, Eastern Cape Health Department, says that the department has received initial results from blood donation.
“We’re looking at other activities to take, for example, folic acid, which is a by-product of methanol, and that can really tell us more about the concentrations and actually the levels and toxicity found,” Mativane said. .
Mativane says investigators are also testing gastric samples.
“It would also tell us what they were drinking and what next. So, there are other activities and other toxic processes that are going on in the Cape Town lab,” Mativane said.
Speaking about the backlog of cases in the laboratory, the head of the Eastern Cape province, Oscar Mbuyane, says he understands that the families of deceased youths want answers. But he has appealed for patience and understanding.
“Since all cases are sensitive, everybody is looking for their consequences, whether it’s gender-based violence, or rape and other things that are happening out there,” Mabuane said.
Meanwhile, National Police Minister Bhiki Sele, who was also at Tuesday’s media briefing, says police have not ruled out the possibility of further arrests.
In the case of selling liquor to minors, the bar owner and two employees have been accused of violating the Liquor Act. The 52-year-old owner will be produced before the court on August 19.
Following outrage on social media, both employees were fined just 2,000 rand, or $117.
Seele again reassured the community that everything was being done to get to the bottom of what happened.
“The police is here. A special investigation team from both the provincial and head office. Since we take the matter very seriously and we hope we will find out as the case continues, what really happened on that particular day,” Bheki said. The form of finding who will be able to answer and give accountability for what happened.”
Officials say they will do more to help families, some of whom have lost their only child.