At least 20 people have been confirmed dead at the Enyobeni Tavern in South Africa's East London city, Police officials said. Two more people have been taken to the hospital in critical condition, according to local broadcaster eNCA.
According to local police, 17 people died at the scene, and three later died in the hospital.
A total of 35 people have been reported missing, according to a community list seen by News24.
The cause of the deaths is currently unknown, yet there has been speculation by locals that the patrons were either exposed to some form of poison, an incident that resulted in a large number being injured and killed in a stampede, or a combination of both.
"The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation as we speak," a police spokesman told the Newzroom Africa television channel.
"We do not want to make any speculations at this stage," Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana said.
Brigadier Kinana added that most of those found dead were young adults aged between 18 and 20.
At the tavern, police found bodies strewn bizarrely across tables, chairs and on the floor, seeming as if they "dropped dead on the spot" with no obvious signs of injury. Unverified images, allegedly from the tavern, depicted the gruesome scene and indeed showed no visible signs of injury.
Police minister Bheki Cele has deployed a top forensic and pathology team from Pretoria to investigate what led to the death of 20 people at Enyobeni Tavern in the Eastern Cape.
Addressing an angry crown at Scenery Park, Cele said they also needed to find out from the owner why the venue only had one exit and entrance.
“At first, we were told that this was a stampede, but by the looks of things, there was no stampede that took place,” Cele said.
“I do not want to speculate on the cause of death; that’s why we brought the top forensic team so that if the cause of death was some poison, they will let us know.”
Siyanda Manana, a spokesperson for Eastern Cape's health department told News24 the dead bodies were taken to various nearby mortuaries.
"We are going to conduct autopsies as soon as possible to establish the probable cause of death," Manana added.
"We are going to conduct autopsies as soon as possible to establish the probable cause of death."Siyanda Manana
This is a developing story.