The carnage took place shortly after midnight, according to police who said the group of men entered the Orlando East tavern, in the township on the outskirts of the main city Johannesburg, before “shooting randomly at the patrons”.
Police confirmed that there had been a second apparently random shooting at around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, in a tavern in Pietermaritzburg, about 500 km southeast of Soweto, killing four people and wounding eight.
“We do not think the incidents are linked because they took place in different provinces. We are investigating this incident on its own,” Nqobile Gwala, police spokesperson for KwaZulu-Natal, which includes Pietermaritzburg, said by telephone.
A police spokesperson said there was currently no suspicion the incidents were related.
In both cases, the unknown gunmen fled the scene and are now on the run, police said, adding that it was not clear how many were involved in the attacks or what their motives were.
South Africa is one of the world’s most violent countries with 20,000 people murdered every year, one of the highest per-capita murder rates globally.
At the scene of the Soweto shooting, crowds gathered around the police cordon, where a heavy police presence maintained order and combed the area for clues, a Reuters reporter saw. One officer carried zip-locked bags full of spent bullet cartridges.
Elias Mawela, police commissioner for South Africa’s most populous Gauteng province, told Reuters by telephone that there had been a third shooting during a suspected robbery in a tavern in Katlehong, also outside Johannesburg, on Thursday night, which killed two people and wounded two others.
Referring to the Soweto shooting, Mawela said: “Why were they targeted? There was no specific person targeted. You can see by the way the bullet cartridges are cast around that were just shooting randomly.”
Soweto, near Johannesburg, is the largest of the country’s Black townships. They were the creations of white minority rule, which ended in 1994 but whose legacy of widespread poverty, youth unemployment and violence persists nearly three decades later.