JOHANNESBURG — Gunmen armed with rifles and pistols opened fire at people in a bar in the South African township of Soweto in the early hours of Sunday, killing 15 and wounding nine, police said.
The carnage took place shortly after midnight, when an unknown number of gunmen entered the Orlando East tavern, in the township on the outskirts of the main city Johannesburg, spraying bullets at its patrons, police and witnesses said.
“Some were shot in the head, you could see their brains spilling out,” said Thobani Mhlabiso, 26, a bar waiter who hid behind the fridge to survive the onslaught in one of Soweto’s poorer neighborhoods, made up mostly of metal sheet shacks. “I had to jump over those bodies. There was blood everywhere.”
Police confirmed that there had been a second apparently random shooting at around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, in a tavern in Pietermaritzburg, about 500 km southeast of Soweto, killing four people and wounding eight.
“We do not think the incidents are linked because they took place in different provinces. We are investigating this incident on its own,” Nqobile Gwala, police spokesperson for KwaZulu-Natal, which includes Pietermaritzburg, said by telephone.
South Africa 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.
In both cases, the unknown gunmen fled the scene and are now on the run, police said, adding that it was not clear how many were involved in the attacks or what their motives were.
“I’m so heartbroken,” Sololo Mjoli, a 59-year-old gardener, whose two sons, Sthembiso, 34, Luyanda, 18, and were both killed, said, speaking softly outside one of the neighborhood’s many houses assembled from scrap metal.
Sthemibiso’s girlfriend had arrived on the scene shortly after the attack to find him still breathing, Mjoli said.
“Then he was rushed to hospital, where he died.”
At the scene of the Soweto shooting, crowds gathered around the police cordon, where a heavy police presence maintained order and combed the area for clues, a Reuters reporter saw. One officer carried zip-locked bags full of spent bullet cartridges.
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.
Elias Mawela, police commissioner for South Africa’s most populous Gauteng province, told Reuters by telephone that there had been a third shooting during a suspected robbery in a tavern in Katlehong, also outside Johannesburg, on Thursday night, which killed two people and wounded two others.
Referring to the Soweto shooting, Mawela said: “There was no specific person targeted. You can see by the way the bullet cartridges are cast around that were just shooting randomly.”