Mafia-style turf wars blamed for tavern killings



Published Jul 23, 2022


Durban - Crime intelligence is the only way to stop the growing number of mass shootings in South Africa, say crime experts.

Nearly 30 people have died in tavern shootings around the country, including four in Sweetwaters outside Pietermaritzburg.

This week four men appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court in connection with the killings.

Criminologists believe greed and business rivalry are at the root of the problem.

Dr Nirmala Gopal from the University of KwaZulu-Natal said that in the absence of an established link between the various attacks, it appeared this was a “reign of terror on tavern owners” by others wanting to monopolise the industry.

“There are other elements of greed, profits, rivalry, power, and aggression. All these elements are typical of South African society at large and among criminals in particular.”

Gopal said tavern violence mimicked drug-related violence but the fundamental difference was that drinkers were easy to identify because of the legal status of alcohol.

People congregated in a familiar “safe” place while drug violence followed dealers, pedlaers and runners, not necessarily the users, said Gopal.

Criminologist and former policeman Dr Hennie Lochner blamed the government for creating the current killing spree in taverns.

He believes the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, which included a ban on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, could have sparked the current crisis.

Lochner said the shootings were “mafia-style competition” where rival tavern owners wanted to eliminate their competition.

He said the hard lockdown created a market for cheap, illicit cigarettes and alcohol and those businesses still existed even after the bans were lifted.

Lochner stressed that the only way to deal with crime and more mass shootings was through crime intelligence.

“However, the lack of crime intelligence is the cause of the problems in South Africa and must be dealt with urgently,” said Lochner.

Lochner said violence in the taxi industry was started by competition and this could be what was happening in taverns.

Gun Free South Africa director Adele Kirsten said the high rate of murders in South Africa were not new but the pattern of gun violence was changing.

She said over the past 18 months there had been increases in multiple shootings, multiple gunshot wounds to victims and multiple shootings in public spaces.

“When you have multiple shootings and victims with multiple shots it means that you have an excess and easy supply of guns and ammunition.”

At least 140 spent cartridges were found after the tavern shooting in Soweto.

Kirsten said many crimes in South Africa were committed with handguns which clearly showed that those weapons had belonged to civilians.

Bringing back the firearms recovery unit and strengthening gun laws would go a long way toward solving the increase in murders, Kirsten said.

She said the current Firearms Control Amendment Bill repealed the rights of citizens to apply for a licence on the basis of self-defence which is why it had the support of Gun Free South Africa.

“The less guns, the less dead people,” said Kirsten.

Lawyer and spokesman for the South African Gun Owners’ Association Damian Enslin disagreed.

He said stricter gun control legislation would not make a difference because the current requirements made it difficult for anyone to obtain a firearm licence, with a waiting period of up to 12 months or more.

“If you make more laws and there’s no one enforcing those laws, you are not dealing with the problem at all,” said Enslin.

He said South Africa’s biggest problem was the unlawful, illegal firearms, and the source of those firearms was quite often the police, defence force, guns coming across the border from Mozambique and Namibia as well as those weapons still in circulation from the days of the armed struggle.

Enslin said effective policing, crime intelligence and specialised units to track down and find out where the guns were coming from were key to solving the violence.

Like Lochner, Enslin has also highlighted the need for effective crime intelligence.

“Crime intelligence has been used for political means over the last few years rather than (for) actual crime intelligence (such as) finding out who are the gangsters, who are the organised criminals, and cracking down there.”

The Independent on Saturday