Gunmen kill 19 in ‘random’ bar shootings in South Africa

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JOHANNESBURG — Gunmen have killed 19 people in two seemingly random shootings hours apart at taverns in South Africa, police said on Sunday, bolstering the country’s grim status as a global murder hub.

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Attackers armed with rifles and pistols opened fire at the Orlando East bar in Soweto Township in the early hours of Sunday, killing 15 people and injuring nine, police said.

« You can see by the way the bullet cartridges are thrown that they were just firing randomly, » said Gauteng provincial police commissioner Elias Mawela.

Sololo Mjoli’s two sons, Sthembiso, 34, Luyanda, 18, were both killed in the attack at the bar in one of Soweto’s poorest neighborhoods of mostly tin shacks.

« I’m so heartbroken, » the 59-year-old gardener said, adding that Schemibiso’s girlfriend arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting to find him still breathing.

« Then he was rushed to hospital, where he died. »

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Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Forensics Service inspect the scene of a mass shooting in Soweto, South Africa on July 10, 2022.
Members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Forensics Service inspect the scene of a mass shooting in Soweto, South Africa on July 10, 2022. Photo by IHSAAN HAFFEJEE /AFP via Getty Images

Bar waiter Thobani Mhlabiso said he hid behind the fridge to survive the assault.

« There was blood everywhere, » he said.

Police confirmed a second seemingly random shooting hours earlier, around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, at a tavern in Pietermaritzburg, 500 km southeast of Soweto, which left four people dead and eight injured.

Officers said they don’t believe the two shootings were related. The killers in both incidents are at large, according to police, who said it was unclear how many attackers were involved in either shooting.

South Africa, home to around 60 million people, is one of the most violent countries in the world with 20,000 people murdered every year, one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world.

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There are around 3 million registered firearms in the country, according to campaign group Gun Free South Africa, although many more are believed to be circulating on the black market.

At the scene of the shooting in Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg, crowds gathered around the police cordon as officers scoured the area for clues – one carrying zip bags filled with used bullet cartridges.

Soweto is the largest of the country’s black townships. They are the creations of the white minority regime, which ended in 1994 but whose legacy of widespread poverty, youth unemployment and violence persists nearly three decades later.

Gauteng Police Commissioner Mawela told Reuters there was a third shooting during a suspected robbery at a tavern in Katlehong, also outside Johannesburg, on Thursday night which killed two people and injured two others.

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