Eyewitness accounts describe horror of armed assailants gunning down 15 people in ‘brutal and heartless’ attack at a bar in the black South African township of Soweto on Sunday
‘People died screaming before my eyes – there were bodies everywhere’
One of the assailants was armed with an AK-47assault rifle, others had handguns
The gunmen reportedly, shot ‘randomly’ into a bar in Soweto near Johannesburg last night
A witness described people screaming and hiding under tables amid gunfire
At least ten other victims were treated at local hospitals after the shooting, three with life-threatening injuries
‘I hid under a table. Four dead people lay near me and their blood spilt on me,’ survivor recounts
Mass shooting in the tavern the Johannesburg suburb happened just hours after shooting at a bar in Sweetwaters township in the coastal city of Pietermaritzburg, on Saturday night
Two men entered the tavern in Sweetwaters and randomly opened fire on patrons, killing four people and injuring eight others
Nineteen people were killed 19 in two apparently random shootings within hours of each other at taverns in South Africa, police said on Sunday. The assailants armed with rifles and pistols opened fire in the Orlando East bar in the township of Soweto in the early hours of Sunday, killing 15 people and wounding nine, police said.
“You can see by the way the bullet cartridges are cast around that they were just shooting randomly,” said Elias Mawela, police commissioner for Gauteng province.
The shocking mass murder in the tavern in Soweto, Johannesburg, followed another bar shooting just hours earlier in Pietermaritzburg, which claimed the lives of four people. Police do not believe the two shootings were linked. No arrests have been made and the number of shooters is yet to be ascertained. At the scene of the shooting in Soweto, on the outskirts of Johannesburg on Sunday morning, local residents pressed at the edges of the police secure tapes while law enforcement officers collected evidence. One officer was seen carrying ziplock bags full of spent shells.
Eyewitness account describes scenes of armed men firing ‘repeatedly’ at bar patrons even as they lay dead on the floor. People hid under tables and were forced to scramble over dead bodies in order to escape.
‘I was seated at the corner with other people drinking. We had fun until around 10pm, when our fun was abruptly stopped. I saw a man carrying an AK-47, opening the glass sliding door,’ one survivor told News 24.
‘He didn’t say anything and started opening fire. My friend and others at the pool table scattered for cover. He sprayed them with bullets.
‘I saw them falling to the ground. It was pandemonium. I hid under a table. Four dead people were lying near me. Their blood spilt on me. After the man with an assault rifle was done. Two others carrying 9mm pistols joined and repeatedly fired at people on the floor.’
‘People died in front of me. Some were screaming in pain. Alcohol was scattered. After killing people, including my friend, the gunmen slowly walked away.’
Terrifyingly, after the man stepped out from under a table, he came face to face with one of the shooters who, he said, simply walked away.
Thobani Mhlabiso, 26, a bar waiter who hid behind the fridge to survive the onslaught, told reporters that some customers were shot in the head.
‘I had to jump over those bodies. There was blood everywhere.’
‘I’m so heartbroken,’ said Sololo Mjoli, a 59-year-old gardener, whose two sons, Sthembiso, 34, Luyanda, 18, were both killed in the shootings
Sthemibiso’s girlfriend had arrived on the scene shortly after the attack to find him still breathing, Mjoli said, but he sadly later died in hospital.
At least ten other victims were treated at local hospitals after the shooting, three with life-threatening injuries.
The unknown gunmen fled the scene in a white Toyota Quantum minibus and are now on the run, said a police source. The incident happened around 12:30am Sunday morning according to Gauteng Police Commissioner Elias Mawela.
In a separate incident, four people were shot dead by unknown gunmen at a bar in Sweetwaters township in the coastal city of Pietermaritzburg on Saturday night.
According to police, two men entered the tavern and randomly opened fire on patrons.
Two people died at the scene and two others died later in hospital. Eight other people injured in the incident are being treated in hospital.
Soweto is the largest of the country’s Black townships. They were the creations of white minority rule, which ended in 1994 but whose legacy of widespread poverty, youth unemployment and violence persists nearly three decades later.
South Africa which has a population of 60 million people, is one of the world’s most violent countries with 20,000 people murdered every year, one of the highest per-capita murder rates globally.
There are about 3 million guns registered in the country, according to campaign group Gun Free South Africa, though many more are thought to be circulating on the black market.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the two bar shootings.
‘As a nation, we cannot allow violent criminals to terrorize us in this way, regardless of where such incidents may occur,’ he said in a statement.
‘As government, citizens and structures of civil society, we must all work together even more closely to improve social and economic conditions in communities, reduce violent crime and stamp out the illicit circulation of firearms.’
Commissioner Mawela added: ‘All of a sudden they heard some gunshots, that is when people tried to run out of the tavern.
‘We don’t have the full details at the moment of what is the motive, and why they were targeting these people.
‘You can see that a high caliber firearm was used and it was shooting randomly.
‘You can see that every one of those people were struggling to get out of the tavern.
‘The number of cartridges found on the scene indicated it was a group of people who shot at the patrons.’