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South Africa’s many illegal guns a factor in bar shootings

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – South African police are patrolling the streets of Johannesburg’s Soweto township, following a spate of bar shootings that have rocked the nation.

The country’s abundance of guns held illegally is partially to blame for the shootings in which 22 people were killed at three different taverns this past weekend, community activists said.

At least 16 people were shot dead at a tavern in the township of Soweto while four others were killed in Pietermaritzburg and two were shot dead in Katlehong, east of Johannesburg.

One of those wounded in the Soweto shooting died in hospital on Tuesday, raising the death toll in that incident to 16.

It’s not known if the different shootings are linked but regional and ethnic rivalries, an organised crime extortion ring, competition between bar owners and political enmities are all possible motivations for the shootings, said analysts.

In all three incidents, the suspects opened fire on patrons before speeding off in their vehicles and notably the attackers did not rob the victims.

According to police, the gunmen in the Soweto shooting used high-caliber rifles including AK-47s, leaving 137 empty cartridges found on the scene. This has raised concerns about how criminals are able to access such high-powered weapons.

The illegal guns circulating in South Africa contributes to the country’s high crime rate, according to activists.

An average of 23 people are shot and killed in South Africa daily, according to the country’s annual crime statistics.

Police question a man while on patrol in Soweto, South Africa in search of illegal firearms following the weekend shooting in a bar which claimed the lives of 16 people. PHOTO: AP