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Mass deaths at taverns in South Africa indicative of a lawless society

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Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency/(ANA) – Police officers walk past a crime scene at the Nomzamo informal settlement near Orlando and Pimville in Soweto while forensic pathologists work in the background. Fifteen people were shot dead and others injured following a shooting in the early hours of the morning on July 10.

By Noni Mokati

Three Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) operatives entered the Heidelberg Tavern in Cape Town, South Africa on December 30, 1993, and opened fire on the crowd – killing four students and the owner of an nearby restaurant.

Reports at the time state that an unused bomb with nails strapped to it was discovered nearby.

The motive?

Members of APLA were apparently determined to avenge the murders of five black school children which had occurred weeks before at the hands of the South African Defence Force who operated under the Apartheid regime.

Soldiers who had staked claim to the tavern killings were identified as APLA members Humphrey Luyanda Gqomfa, Vuyisile Madisi and Zola Mabala. News reports indicate that trio were convicted in 1994 but were granted amnesty four years later.

Interestingly, their conviction came at a time South Africa found itself transitioning into a democratic state that would be led going forward by the African National Congress (ANC).

Reflecting on the tavern massacre in his blog published in 2019, Phil Gurski, President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd says: “The ANC has been in power ever since the ‘end’ of apartheid in 1994. And yet South Africa is a very violent land, ranking fifth worst in the world with regard to law and order by one account. A lot of this violence is undoubtedly due to the lasting effects of apartheid. The question remains: how does a country get over this tragedy and build a safe society? It does not appear that South Africa has the answer.”

Gurski’s question is somewhat apt, particularly now in 2022.

Almost 29 years since the Heidelberg massacre, South Africa yet again finds itself dealing with tavern massacres and the police and government of the day struggling to transforming SA into a safe state.

This time, these tavern massacres are not politically motivated.

The recent and latest attacks on pubs across Gauteng and in some parts of the country speak of a deepening cataclysm of violence in the country coupled with a moral decay and weak governance systems.

Khayelitsha tavern shooting

Residents of Site B in Khayelitsha are woken up to frightening visuals following the shooting of seven people at a tavern in the early hours March 8, 2020. The shooting included a six-year-old girl.

Alexandra tavern shooting

A report by a local community newspaper report states South African Police Service “opened a case of murder, attempted murder and an inquest docket after a man allegedly shot three people including himself in Alexandra township on December 30, 2021 at approximately 7pm.” The article states that the incident occurred after the suspect in question “chased his girlfriend” inside a tavern. He was carrying a firearm and “the owner of the tavern, who is believed to be the brother of the woman as well as another man attempted to stop the suspect.” It said the tavern owner was identified as former Bafana Bafana player, Maimane Phiri. Phiri was shot in the arm, lower body during the altercation and another man on the upper body. The suspect turned the gun on himself.

Hebron tavern shooting

A video of a harrowing shooting incident went viral on social media. Patrons at a tavern in the Tlhasedi section in Hebron, east of Brits in the North West could be seen sitting on benches outside at about 9pm drinking on Sunday, March 27, 2022. Two men are then seen walking towards a nearby table and shooting at a patron while patrons run for cover. The gunman walks out of the venue followed by a fellow gunman who fires two random shots. Spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone is quoted in the media saying: “men entered the tavern and utilised the female toilets. They were allegedly escorted out and directed to the male toilets. The duo then used the males’ only toilets, as directed. On return from the toilet, they approached patrons and one of them armed with a firearm, allegedly fired shots hitting one man and two women. Sadly, Godknows Kgopane, 39, and Portia Manale, 38, died instantly.”

Enyobeni Tavern tragedy

On June 26, 21 youngsters between the ages 14 – 20 perished in the early hours at the Enyobeni Tavern in Scenery Park, East London. They had taken part in celebrations to mark the end of their mid-year exams. While a conclusive and final toxicology report around their deaths remains to be concluded by the state, the reasons for their deaths has been linked to something they ingested or could have possibly inhaled, with parents pleading for investigations to be concluded so as to know what took their children’s lives. Their deaths also sparked a debate about underage drinking in the country and feeble laws and regulations. Questions have risen on why would a tavern owner open doors for young children to consume alcohol? Are SA laws lax when it comes to liquor? What is evident now more than ever is that these parents and the community at large in Scenery Park needs to establish what happened. If not, it would be a travesty to never know what killed Esinako Sanarhana, Sikelela Tshemese, Sinothando Mgangala,Thembinkosi Silwane, Azizipho Zilindile, Bhongolethu Ncandana, Aluncedo Monelo, Mbulelo Rangile, Nathi Ngqoza, Sandanathi Mahlaka-hlaka, Inathi Nkani, Asamkele Thukuthe Lithemba Velaphi, Simamkele Sobetwa, Kungentando Nzima, Lilitha Methuko, Lungile Bekiso, Ovayo Mateyise, Inamandla Wexu, Simele Bolsiki and Oyena Ngoloyi.

Soweto tavern shooting

On July 10, exactly 14 days after the Enyobeni tragedy, reports emerged that 15 people were shot dead at the Emazulwini tavern in Nomzamo Informal Settlement near Orlando and Pimville, Soweto, also in the early hours of Sunday morning. According to Gauteng Police Commissioner, Elias Mawela the shooting occurred after unidentified gunmen opened fire at the patrons and the motive of the shooting is unknown.

Picture: Timothy Bernard African News Agency /(ANA) – A woman is inconsolable following a shooting at a local tavern in the Nomzamo informal settlement near Orlando and Pimville in Soweto. Fifteen people were shot dead and others injured in the early hours of the morning on July 10.

Katlehong tavern shooting

On July 8, 2022, a shooting at Mputlane Inn Tavern in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg left the community reeling. The incident occurred at about 10pm. Four gunmen apparently entered the tavern. Shortly afterwards they began firing shots randomly at patrons. Reports state that six people were shot. Two died at the scene while others were rushed to hospital. Police say the motive of the shooting is unknown.

Pietermaritzburg tavern shooting

On July 9, 2022, four people died following a shooting at a tavern in Pietermaritzburg. Two armed men who were seen driving a VW Polo stormed into the tavern around 8.30pm on Saturday night and opened fire. Two people were killed on the scene and two died in hospital; others were also injured and rushed to hospital.

What are the implications for communities?

The conversation around these mass shootings has many dynamics to it.

Firstly, we have to accept that across the world weak or non-existent gun laws are increasingly causing high levels of distress. We have seen mass shootings in the US and South Africans are also experiencing it at their doorstep. Therefore, gun violence is not only isolated to the US or other states. The rage is evidently growing and is perhaps symptomatic of social ills in society which can be linked to mental health and so much more. But one hastens to ask again, are these shootings part of the ongoing violence in society or is there’s more to this than meets the eye, who behind these murders and what is their motive?

On the other hand, a poignant question to ask is whether South Africans entrepreneurs are creating dangerous havens in the form of taverns which don’t have adequate security to guard patrons?

Finding tangible solutions to the crisis

While police continue to investigate if there is any link or trend in many of these shootings, no stones must be left unturned in establishing who is behind the killings and what the motive is. More so, members of the different communities now need to regroup and play an active role in assisting law enforcement authorities as some of these gunmen are friends, relatives or their own children. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has also released a statement saying: “As a nation, we cannot allow violent criminals to terrorise us in this way, regardless of where such incidents may occur. As government, citizens and structures of civil society, we must all work together even more closely to improve social and economic conditions in communities, reduce violent crimes and stamp out the illicit circulation of firearms… Every single death is unacceptable and worrying…”

It’s true.

This calamity should engender in us a deep sense of desperation for peace and security.

Mokati is a content editor at the African News Agency (ANA)