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South African police arrest two in connection to weekend bar shooting

19 people were killed in two separate bar shootings in the country at the weekend.

People gathered at the scene of an overnight bar shooting in Soweto on Sunday.
People gathered at the scene of an overnight bar shooting in Soweto on Sunday.
Image: Shiraaz Mohamed

POLICE IN SOUTH Africa have said they have arrested two people in connection with one of two bar shootings that left a total of 19 people dead, in killings that shocked the nation.

The arrests came amid investigations into Saturday night’s shooting at a tavern in the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg, in KwaZulu-Natal province, where four people were killed and eight wounded when two men fired indiscriminately at customers.

The police ministry described the arrests in a statement as “a first step of bringing to book all those who orchestrated one of the country’s bloodiest weekends”. It did not provide any further details.

Another 15 people – among them two women – were shot dead early on Sunday as they enjoyed a night out in Soweto township, close to Johannesburg, in a separate incident.

Lirandzu Themba, a spokeswoman for the ministry, told AFP police believed those held were “linked” to the Pietermaritzburg shooting.

Shootings are common in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest murder rates, fuelled by gang violence and alcohol.

But the apparently random murders at the weekend had left investigators puzzled.

“As a nation, we cannot allow violent criminals to terrorise us in this way, regardless of where such incidents may occur,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement on Sunday.

‘Brutal war’

Speaking at the scene of the shooting in Soweto today, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that investigations picked up “over 140 empty cartridges from high-calibre weapons” at the scene.

“It was a brutal war in there and quite clear that these murderers wanted to kill as many people as possible,” he said.

At the scene, he told the local community the killers will be found and policing ramped up, beginning with five new police vehicles for the local station, which were brought out for the occasion.

“We have to react. We have to work with people, we have to put hope and stability back,” Cele told reporters after addressing a crowd of more than 200, some in tears, others visibly angry.

But locals said they have heard it before – and no longer believe it.

“As usual, (they’re) giving us empty promises that have never been implemented,” said Tim Thema, 50, a community leader in the informal settlement where the shooting took place. “He’s just trying to score cheap political points.”

Soweto, one of the largest townships in Johannesburg and which used to be a hotbed of anti-apartheid activism, has experienced a revival in recent years but many areas remain impoverished.

Thema said government officials normally visit the area where the shooting took place ahead of elections and after tragedies, promising electricity, water and other resources – only for things to remain the same.

Violent crime has been on the rise in the country, with an average of 67 people murdered every day in the first four months of 2022 – the highest rate in the past five years.

Cele said police did not believe the two shootings were connected.

The violence comes as South Africa faces compounding social and economic challenges, with unemployment at 34.5 and youth unemployment at nearly 64 percent.

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Poverty

“Poverty is among the things that’s caused this,” said Siyabonga Sam, 32, another Orlando resident who lost his job during the coronavirus pandemic. “If government doesn’t create jobs, this thing will never end.”

Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse told reporters the high number of taverns and liquor shops was an issue, adding such venues often outnumber “schools, clinics, churches and everything else combined”.

Alcohol abuse is a major concern in the country, with binge drinking on the rise according to government health reports.

Phalatse said the government, along with the liquor board, needed to find a way to intervene.

But residents don’t see the taverns as the source of the violence.

“It’s not a question of taverns… The problem (is the lack of) social economic activities, something that can keep occupied these youth, to have something in life,” Thema said.

With the area devoid of streetlights, parks and proper housing, Sipho Khwinda, 49, a pastor with four children said basic infrastructure would go a long way to improving community safety.

“There’s no fence… there’s no security,” he said.

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