19 killed in South Africa bar shootings

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Nineteen people are dead after armed assailants randomly shot at patrons in two bars in South Africa in separate incidents denounced by the president as "unacceptable and worrying".

In Soweto, 15 people -- among them two women -- were killed as they enjoyed a night out, police said, when assailants pulled up in a minibus taxi and began randomly firing high-calibre guns at drinkers.

In the eastern city of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal province four people were killed and eight wounded in a bar when two men fired indiscriminately at customers.

Shootings are common in South Africa, a country with one of the world's highest murder rates, fuelled by gang violence and alcohol.

But the similar modus operandi in the weekend killings has left investigators puzzled.

"As a nation, we cannot allow violent criminals to terrorise us in this way, regardless of where such incidents may occur," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement.

The violent deaths are "unacceptable and worrying" he added, offering condolences for the lives lost under "similar circumstances" in Soweto and Pietermaritzburg.

- 'Shot randomly' -

In Soweto, Johannesburg's largest township to the southwest of South Africa's economic capital, police were called to the scene shortly after midnight.

On arrival they found "12 people were dead with gunshot wounds," police officer Nonhlanhla Kubheka told AFP.

Eleven people were taken to hospital, and three later succumbed to their wounds.

The dead were aged between 19 and 35, provincial police chief Elias Mawela told AFP.

"According to witnesses, they shot randomly," said Mawela.

No arrests have been made yet and there were no details regarding the assailants.

"They came and shot at people who were having fun," said Kubheka, commander of the Orlando police station, the Soweto district where the shooting took place.

Hundreds of people massed behind police cordons as police investigated, AFP journalists reported.

Only a small poster showing beer prices at the bar could be seen outside the establishment located between houses.

Police led away crying relatives of those caught up in the drama who tried to approach the crime scene.

The colourful Soweto Towers, a favourite bungee jumping spot for tourists, stood out in the background.

- Blood stains -

In Pietermaritzburg, four people aged between 30 and 45 were killed and eight wounded on Saturday night, police spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala said.

Two men drove up, entered the bar and "fired random shots at the patrons", before fleeing, Gwala said. Two died at the scene and the other two in hospital.

The attack occurred at a tavern in a semi-rural area 20 kilometres (12 miles) from Pietermaritzburg, close to a car wash and a liquor store, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

Local mayor Mzimkhulu Thebola said the assault was over very quickly.

"Every week we get news of people that have just been shot at randomly," said Thebola, wearing a bright yellow winter jacket, the colours of the ruling African National Congress.

An AFP correspondent saw blood stains on the ground in front of the bar.

The killings come two weeks to the day after the mysterious deaths of 21 people, mostly teens, in still unclear circumstances at a township tavern last month in the southern city of East London.

The latest shootings also come a year after an outbreak of the worst violence the country has seen since the end of the apartheid era three decades ago brought democracy.

Last July saw large scale rioting and looting, ransacking of shops, a wave of arson attacks and attacks on infrastructure and industrial warehouses leading to more than 350 deaths and several thousand arrests with the country already in the throes of a major Covid-19 wave.

Most of the unrest occurred in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal as people protested the sentencing and incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma was sentenced after refusing to testify on corruption charges during his 2009 to 2018 tenure.

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