At least 21 people have been shot dead and several others wounded in the early hours of Sunday morning in three separate incidents in taverns and entertainment joints in South Africa.
Police are investigating the incidents but no arrests were immediately reported in the apparently disconnected events.
The first incident took place after midnight, when two or three occupants of a vehicle opened fire on revellers at a popular tavern in Orlando, Soweto, south of Johannesburg, with “heavy calibre” automatic firearms.
Police confirmed that 15 people have died in that shooting, with eight wounded, three critically.
All the victims were between aged 19 and 35 but no motive has yet been established, said police who are on the scene.
Reports from survivors and witnesses indicated that the gunmen opened fire randomly into the crowded venue without any provocation.
In another incident at Mputlane Tavern in Katlehong, a high-density suburb also to the south of Johannesburg, two people were killed and four others injured when gunmen stormed the venue firing, before making people lie on the floor and “demanded guns”, according to one account.
In the KwaZulu-Natal Province capital of Pietermaritzburg, a third mass shooting incident took place at Sweetwaters Tavern, leaving four dead and eight hospitalised.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said that “heavy calibre” firearms were used in the Soweto incidents, but could offer no further information on the overnight mass shootings, with forensic investigators at all three scences still collecting evidence.
Gauteng provincial police commissioner Elias Mawela said the motives for the Soweto and Katlehong shootings, both in his juruisdiction, had yet to be established.
Authorities were cautious about any possible links between the three incidents despite the observation that they appeared “at this stage” to be unrelated.
Anti-immigrant movement Operation Dudula leader Lux Dlamini, who said he was “on patrol” in Soweto at the time of the shooting in that suburb, blamed “many guns floating around our communities”.
The latest mass shootings come exactly two weeks after the eNyobeni Tavern tragedy in the suburb of Scenery Park in S, Africa’s East London where 21 young people perished under still-mysterious circumstances.
That incident sparked a debate around underage drinking, which was evident, with some victims being as young as 13.
But despite burials having taken place, the families of the young people still have no idea what exactly caused their deaths.