Around 12:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, a group of men rolled into a tavern in Johannesburg, South Africa, and shot dead 23 people, killing at least 15 of them, police said.
According to a media statement from the South African Police Service, 12 people died at the scene. A total of 15 are now dead, seven victims remain in critical condition. The guard reported.
As reported by the Associated Press, police are investigating a report that the suspected gunmen approached the tavern –identified by a local government official as Mdlalose in the Nomzamo settlement of Soweto Municipality– in a van and opened fire on bar patrons. According to the police commissioner, the number of cartridges found suggests the gunmen opened fire at the tavern, a claim supported by witness testimony.
“[The gunman] said nothing and opened fire,” a witness, who says the shooting lasted about 10 minutes, told News24. “My friend and the others at the pool table took cover. He shot them with bullets… Four dead lay next to me.”
A spokeswoman for the national police said the suspects, who remain at large, used rifles and a 9mm handgun in the mass shooting, which police say people were being attacked “indiscriminately”. A motive is not yet known to the police.
The initial investigation indicated the tavern was operating legally, officials said, and that all of the victims were of legal drinking age. According to the police commissioner, many were shot while trying to run from the tavern. However, it is proving difficult to put together a full account of the attack as the tavern was dark when the shooting occurred and witnesses had difficulty identifying the suspects.
The Nomzamo settlement is one of the poorest in Soweto, a relatively prosperous city on the outskirts of Johannesburg. A spokesman for the national police said the community has long been a problem for police due to the lack of electricity.
Thabiso Letlojane, 31, is a lifelong resident of Nomzamo and tells The guard that he was at the bar a few hours before the attack.
“It’s just a normal pub,” he told the outlet. “It was very quiet in the evening… It just goes to show that nobody is safe, especially in this area. People shoot all the time, every day, every night. You can’t sleep without hearing the sound of the guns.”
Although South Africa’s homicide rate has fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has skyrocketed in the final months of 2021. On Saturday, police said four people were killed and eight others injured in another shooting at a bar in the city of Pietermaritzburg. Two weeks ago, 21 teenagers died under mysterious circumstances in a tavern.