South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the eulogy on Wednesday at a funeral for 21 teenagers who died under mysterious circumstances at a bar last month.
Investigators said the teens were probably poisoned by something they ingested, while some reports indicated a gas leak may have been responsible.
Colorful bouquets decorated coffins for 19 of the victims. All were empty, according to the Reuters news agency, because police were still investigating what caused the deaths.
Reuters reported the other two victims had already been buried by their families.
More than a week ago, the lifeless bodies of the 21 youths, the youngest of whom were just 13, were found sitting over chairs and tables in an East London bar while others died on the dance floor.
For the funeral on Wednesday, a massive tent was erected on the Scenery Park Sportveld. Family members and friends paid tribute.
“He loved sports. He played football at school, “said one person. “He died suddenly on June 26, 2022. He will be deeply missed by his family, friends and everyone who knew him.”
Ramaphosa said in his eulogy that although the cause of death is still unknown, the tragedy has put the spotlight on underage drinking and alcohol abuse.
“Today we shed bitter tears over the 21 young lives we lost,” he said. “We must ensure that there is justice for them. We do not want more parents to get a call in the middle of the night about the death of their child. Or asked to come and identify their child who has died from alcohol abuse. We do not want any parent to experience this type of pain anymore. ”
He said since the tragedy, there have been calls for the legal drinking age to be raised from 18 to 21. And he said he thinks there should be a national debate about it.
He also called on alcohol marketers not to target young people.
“Many years ago, when the government started a program to reduce the damage caused by tobacco cigarettes, the government was heavily criticized and received enormous resistance,” Ramaphosa said. “Today we take it for granted that the anti-smoking laws exist and are being complied with by the majority of our people. A similar approach that goes hand in hand with the necessary interventions is needed to reduce the harm of alcohol abuse among our young people.”
The president also called on mayors to set up committees to look at substance abuse in all municipalities of the country.
He also called for better enforcement of the country’s laws.
“We mourn with you and we will walk this path with you,” Ramaphosa said. “What you can be sure of is that we are going to act as a government after this tragedy.”
A rush was ruled out as a cause of death, but there was no word on how long the investigation into the cause of death would take.