(AP) — South Africa is reeling in shock from a spate of weekend bar shootings in which armed men burst into three taverns and opened fire indiscriminately, killing 21 people in total.
Regional and ethnic rivalries, an organized crime extortion ring, competition between bar owners and political enmities are all possible motivations for the shootings, say analysts. It’s not known if the shootings are linked.
The worst was in Johannesburg’s Soweto township in which 15 people were killed and several others seriously injured when several men charged into a bar and started shooting with AK-47 semi-automatic rifles late Saturday night, said police. More than 135 cartridges were found at the scene, indicating that the attackers were shooting to cause maximum casualties, police said.
A manhunt has been launched for 5 suspects in the Soweto shooting, Police Minister Bheki Cele said at a press conference Monday at the bar in the Nomzamo area where it took place. The suspects have been traced to Nongoma township in the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province, he said.
In the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal province, gunmen opened fire in a tavern in the Sweetwaters area late Saturday night, killing four people, before speeding away in a small vehicle, said police. Two suspects have been arrested for that shooting.
Two more people were killed at a tavern in Katlehong township, in the Ekurhuleni area south of Johannesburg, when two gunmen opened fire on patrons late Friday night.
Notably in all three shootings the attackers did not rob the victims, security analyst at Good Governance Africa, Stephen Buchanan-Clarke.
“It is difficult to say definitively at this stage what the nature of these attacks is. It is quite telling though that in all three situations nothing was stolen. It seems the patrons targeted were done so to send a wider sort of message,” he told The Associated Press.
“So in that sense, it does resemble something similar to a political, organised terrorist attack than a purely criminal attack,” said Buchanan-Clarke.
Police have deployed a special tactical response unit known as amabherethe to Soweto’s Nomzamo area where the shooting took place.
Amnesty International South Africa has condemned the killings and called for a thorough investigation by police.