South Africans scoff at ’empty’ government promises after massacres
From a mobile stage set up in a dusty, derelict soccer field overlooking hundreds of tin shacks, South African officials promised justice and more security for a grieving community in Soweto on Monday following a weekend massacre.
Fifteen people were shot dead early Sunday when assailants descended on a tavern in the Orlando district of Soweto, wielding powerful guns and shooting seemingly at random.
Police Minister Bheki Cele told the local community the killers — who remain at large — will be found and policing ramped up, beginning with five new police vehicles for the local station, which were brought out for the occasion.
“We have to react. We have to work with people, we have to put hope and stability back,” Cele told reporters after his address to a crowd of more than 200 people, some in tears, others visibly angry.
But locals said they have heard it before — and no longer believe it.
“As usual, (they´re) giving us empty promises that have never been implemented,” said Tim Thema, 50, a community leader in the informal settlement where the shooting took place. “He´s just trying to score cheap political points.”
Soweto, one of the largest townships in Johannesburg and which used to be a hotbed of anti-apartheid activism, has experienced a revival in recent years but many areas remain impoverished.
Thema said government officials normally visit the area where the shooting took place ahead of elections and after tragedies, promising electricity, water and other resources – only for things to remain the same.
Violent crime has been on the rise in the country, with an average of 67 people murdered every day in the first four months of 2022 — the highest rate in the past five years.
This same weekend saw another mass shooting at a tavern.
In the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, four people were killed and eight others injured amid a hail of bullets in the city of Pietermaritzburg.
Cele said police did not believe the incidents were connected.
The violence comes as South Africa faces compounding social and economic challenges, with unemployment at 34.5 and youth unemployment at nearly 64 percent.
– Poverty, no jobs, drink –
“Poverty is among the things that’s caused this,” said Siyabonga Sam, 32, another Orlando resident who lost his job during the coronavirus pandemic. “If government doesn´t create jobs, this thing will never end.”
Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalatse told reporters the high number of taverns and liquor shops was an issue, adding such venues often outnumber “schools, clinics, churches and everything else combined”.
Alcohol abuse is a major concern in the country, with binge drinking on the rise according to government health reports.
Phalatse said the government, along with the liquor board, needed to find a way to intervene.
But residents don’t see the taverns as the source of the violence.
“It’s not a question of taverns… The problem (is the lack of) social economic activities, something that can keep occupied these youth, to have something in life,” Thema said.
With the area devoid of streetlights, parks and proper housing, Sipho Khwinda, 49, a pastor with four children said basic infrastructure would go a long way to improving community safety.
“There’s no fence… there’s no security,” he said.