/ 25 July 2022

Uproar over Gauteng mass shootings while other areas suffer in relative silence

Soweto Shooting
Police take security measurements at the scene of a mass shooting in Soweto, South Africa, on July 10, 2022. Fourteen people have been killed in a mass shooting at a bar in Soweto township near Johannesburg, police said Sunday. (Photo by Ihsaan Haffejee/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

There has been a massive outcry, accompanied by lots of speculation, regarding the recent mass shootings in Gauteng. Minister of police Bheki Cele has experienced the busiest schedule since assuming the role. 

In a short space of time over the past couple of weeks, Cele has crisscrossed Gauteng and addressed communities. Typical of politicians, we have seen him “extending largesse” in the form of police resources to affected communities.

Guns blaze every odd night and bodies fall into the swelling river of blood reminiscent of the apartheid state-sponsored township violence we experienced leading up to our first democratic elections. The media, on one end, seems to be thrilled at the opportunity to garner an audience – don’t waste a good crisis, it is said. On the other end, the majority of South Africans bemoan a scourge that has never been seen or heard of in our post-apartheid era. But is it? Oh we of such easily swayed and fickle minds. 

Gauteng is not alone in suffering from mass shootings and gun violence. We have ignored the issue for far too long in other parts of the country. As a result, when bodies start falling in Gauteng, suddenly we all cry of a national catastrophe. 

Children born in the Cape Flats, post-democracy, have never experienced the stillness of the night. It is the same for those at the Glebelands hostel in Umlazi on the outskirts of Durban. We can say much about marauding gangs or township hoodlums being a law unto themselves in Gauteng. We can spread unverified voice notes about foreign nationals arming themselves and planning to shoot South Africans on sight all we want. The reality is that we have ignored the issue of guns in the wrong hands in the Cape Flats and KwaZulu-Natal for too long. We are now making out that this is an unheard of phenomenon. 

It is said that history has no blank pages, so to substantiate this argument let us go back in time. It was in 2016 that the township of Nyanga in the Cape Flats was declared “the murder capital” and “one of the most dangerous places in the world outside a warzone”. Have we forgotten the 2016-17 campaign by Nelisa Ngqulana calling for a second police station to be built in Nyanga, a township of about 60 000 residents? I don’t have the appetite to calculate the ratio of police officers to citizens. 

So bad has been the situation in Nyanga that in a 2018 Bloomberg article by Mike Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto, the duo wrote: “Nyanga is at ground zero of the explosion of crime in South Africa, where the scourge ranks among the world’s worst – the national murder rate of 35.2 per 100 000 people is more than six times higher than that of the US and the highest in nine years. An average of 56 homicides a day were reported in the 12 months through March. Over the same period in Nyanga, police logged 308 murders, 1 910 assaults and more than 2 000 robberies there.”

Nyanga is not an isolated case. What needs to be noted as well are the mass shootings that regularly take place in other Cape Flats townships such as Mitchells Plain, Hanover Park and Manenberg, leaving children dead as a result of being struck by stray bullets during gang drive-by shootings.

Gang, tribal and political killings have also rocked KwaZulu-Natal, especially the urban metros. Just like the Western Cape in 2014, the government of the province instituted the Moerane Commission of enquiry into political killings –  but no action came of it.

So, what makes the recent Gauteng mass shootings different from those in the Cape Flats or Umlazi? Illegal guns in the wrong hands, mass shootings, violent armed robberies should never be given more media attention or receive swifter action by Cele just because they are in one province instead of another. 

Cele has appeared twice in Soweto since the shootings and he made commitments of more resources in the form of patrol cars and the presence of tactical response teams. The same has never been extended to communities in the Cape Flats, the notorious Glebelands hostel or Umlazi township. We are now starting to pay a hefty price for ignoring lawlessness and turning a blind eye to the guns that have been raging in these areas. 

The Gauteng mass shooting did not come by stealth. Our politicians, together with those who are meant to serve with them, have been sleeping on duty. It is not a problem until it rears its ugly head in Gauteng and we will continue to pay for that.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.