Weekend eruption of tavern massacres shocks South Africa to the core
“I saw them falling to the ground. It was terrifying. I hid under a table. Four dead people were lying near me. Their blood rubbed off 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.”
Two weeks after South Africans were left reeling in shock after 21 young people died at the Enyobeni tavern in East London, 21 patrons at three other taverns were shot dead this weekend.
- Fifteen people were killed in Emazulwini Tavern in Nomzamo informal settlement in Orlando East, Soweto, after gunmen opened fire on revellers in the early hours of Sunday morning.
- Two people were killed in a shooting in a tavern in Katlehong, 40km southeast of Johannesburg.
- Four people were killed when two men opened fire on people in Mntambo Tavern in Sweetwaters, a periurban area near Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. Twelve patrons were shot, with eight admitted to hospital in critical condition.
Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Faith Mazibuko said eight survivors of the tavern shooting in Orlando East were recovering in hospital, three in critical condition. She said the assailants had arrived in a Quantum minibus, entered the tavern and had then started shooting randomly at patrons.
A survivor, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he fears for his life, said he had never experienced such horror.
“I saw them falling to the ground. It was terrifying. I hid under a table. Four dead people were lying near me. Their blood rubbed off 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,” he said.
“I am worried about my safety because one of the shooters saw me. I need protection. I hope they will be arrested. I don’t know the motive behind the killing.”
The suspects who shot at patrons at Mntambo Tavern in Sweetwaters are also believed to have used 9mm pistols. KwaZulu-Natal SAPS spokesperson Colonel Nqobile Gwala said the victims were between 30 and 45 years old. She said the incident happened when two men got out of a VW Polo and opened fire on patrons.
“At around 8.30 on Saturday night, two males jumped out of the vehicle and entered the tavern and started shooting randomly. Two people were declared dead at the scene and the other two died in hospital. The suspect fled the scene after the incident.”
Petros Mntambo, the tavern owner, told journalists that he was still shocked because he had never imagined that such a tragic incident could happen at his premises.
“It is not clear at the moment who are these people who came to kill people in my tavern. But we will view the CCTV cameras to see what really transpired,” said Mtambo.
The community of Sweetwaters is shocked after the incident.
Sikhanyiso Makhaye, councillor for Ward 3 in Sweetwaters, said that as community leaders they have been calling for better police visibility after a spike in violent criminal activities in recent months.
“This incident, in particular, took us by surprise. We had never thought that so many people would die in one place. But we have been hearing stories of the VW Polo whose occupants were terrorising people.
“Many people from Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas are always complaining about these Polo drivers. We call on the minister of police to add more police on the ground to avoid such incidents. We can’t allow the situation whereby our people will live in fear,” said Makhaye.
The IFP is calling for stricter regulations for taverns and sheebens and the raising of the age limit for the consumption of alcohol.
Thami Ntuli, IFP KZN’s chairperson, said the party was concerned about the number of violent incidents and unsolved murder cases in the province.
The tavern deaths across the country have left many in despair, particularly as some of the victims were young children. What seems to be evident is that South Africa is grappling with an underage drinking problem that is exacerbated by the availability and exposure to alcohol from a young age.
“What happened today is proof that there is a broader problem of a lack of effective legislation and effective management of alcohol in the country,” Maurice Smithers, the executive director of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa, told Daily Maverick.
Smithers argued that raising the drinking age to 21, as proposed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, would not change the problem of underage drinking. He said exposure to alcohol advertising is a major contributor to underage drinking, as well as the availability of alcohol through a high and concentrated number of liquor stores.
Smithers said the Liquor Amendment Bill, which proposes a higher legal drinking age, had been on ice for six years.
“We have to ask, ‘What can we do as a society to give our youth the opportunity to have options that are safer… and let them know that there are alternative options for them,” Burt Ronals, founder and managing director of Tomorrow’s Leaders in Training, told Daily Maverick. “Of course we can’t control the choices of young people, but we must give them the tools to make the most of their lives and reach their full potential.”
Adele Kirsten, director of Gun Free South Africa, told Daily Maverick that the trend of gun violence in South Africa was not something new, but rather that it was taking a new direction.
“In the last months we’ve seen a change in shootings; why is it changing? We don’t know yet. But one of the things it could be is that high-calibre weapons are readily available in a way that they weren’t before, which means that you can kill more people at one go… When you flood the market with these types of guns, it makes killing people easy,” she said.
Rev Mzwandile Molo, acting general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, said in a statement that the abuse of alcohol was a major concern, with the safety of patrons and underage drinking needing to be addressed. But, he added, “these acts of violence taking place in taverns have less to do with the abuse of alcohol and more to do with the cheapening of life.”
“We’re seeing a legal and illicit flooding of guns into the market… The pool of weapons has grown under our existing gun laws… Current law is not doing what it should be doing,” Kirsten said.
She added that 23 people are shot and killed in South Africa daily.
“Is this latest spree going to be a game changer for South Africa? It’s these sort of tragedies or deaths that galvanise people to say, ‘This is enough!’,” Kirsten said. DM