By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -Police are hunting for five attackers who burst into a bar in Soweto, South Africa and killed 15 customers in a hail of at least 137 bullets over the weekend, the police minister said on Monday.
Nine other people were wounded in the raid in the early hours of Sunday morning that followed closely on two other shootings in a surge of violence that shocked a nation with one of the world’s highest murder rates.
“It was such a brutality,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told a crowd gathered at the scene in Soweto’s Orlando East neighbourhood. “These people really came to kill and destroy. We don’t know their motive but I guarantee we will find them.”
The high number of rounds – forensic teams found 137 AK-47 cartridges at the crime scene – meant the killers would have had to reload in middle of the slaughter, Cele said.
Another four people were killed and eight wounded late on Saturday in a tavern in Pietermaritzburg, 500km (300 miles) away from Soweto; and two more were killed during a suspected robbery in a tavern in Katlehong, outside Johannesburg, police said.
The three attacks are not believed to be linked. They have unleashed a wave of anger at the police for failing to tackle high levels of violent crime.
Cele promised to send officers to Orlando East to search door-to-door and to send more police vehicles – the dearth of which he acknowledged sometimes prevented police from responding quickly.
“We’ll see by their actions because we no longer believe what they say,” Orlando East resident Andiswa Mnyembane, 37, said in response to the promises.
“They (criminals) fire guns as if they were fireworks. Police take time to arrive here … There are areas where police don’t even go to,” she added.
Around 20,000 people are murdered in South Africa every year out of a population of about 60 million.
There are about 3 million guns registered in the country, according to campaign group Gun Free South Africa, though many more are thought to be circulating on the black market.
Townships like Soweto were the creations of white minority rule, which ended in 1994 but left a legacy of widespread poverty, youth unemployment and frustration.
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla Writing by Tim Cocks Editing by Andrew Heavens)