Mass Shooting at Tavern in Johannesburg, South Africa, Soweto Township Kills 15 People, Police Say

At around 12:30 am local time on Sunday, a group of men rolled up to a tavern in Johannesburg, South Africa, and shot 23 people, killing at least 15 of them, police said.

According to the South African Police Service’s media statement, 12 individuals died at the scene. A total of 15 are now dead, while seven victims remain in critical condition, The Guardian reported.

As the Associated Press reported, police are probing a report that the alleged gunmen approached the tavern—identified by a local government official as Mdlalose’s in the Nomzamo settlement in the township of Soweto—in a minibus and opened fire at bar-goers. According to the police commissioner, the number of cartridges recovered suggests that the gunmen opened fire within the tavern, a claim corroborated by witness accounts.

“[The gunman] didn’t say anything started and opening fire,” one witness, who says that the shooting lasted for approximately 10 minutes, told News24. “My friend and others at the pool table scattered for cover. He sprayed them with bullets…Four dead people were lying near me.”

A national police spokeswoman said that the suspects, who remain at large, used rifles and a 9 mm pistol in the mass shooting, in which police say people were attacked “at random.” As of right now, police do not know of a motive.

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Officials carry a victim’s body on a stretcher.

Ihsaan Haffejee/Getty Images

The initial investigation suggests, according to officials, that the tavern was legally operating and that all victims were of legal age. According to the police commissioner, many were shot while struggling to run out of the tavern. Yet compiling a complete account of the attack is proving difficult, as the tavern was dark when the shooting occurred and witnesses struggled to identify the suspects.

The Nomzamo settlement is one of the poorest in Soweto, a relatively affluent city on the edge of Johannesburg. A national police spokesperson said that the township has long been a source of difficulty for the police, as there is no electricity.

Thabiso Letlojane, 31, is a lifelong resident of Nomzamo and told The Guardian that he was at the bar just hours before the attack.

“It’s just a normal pub,” he told the outlet. “It was very calm in the evening…It just shows that no one is safe, especially in this area. People are shooting all the time, every day every night. You can’t sleep without hearing the sound of the guns.”

Though South Africa’s murder rate dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, it shot up in the final months of 2021. On Saturday, police say that another shooting at a bar in the city of Pietermaritzburg killed four people and injured eight others. Two weeks ago, 21 teenagers died under unknown circumstances at a tavern.

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