By Duncan Guy, Tanya Waterworth, Sameer Naik and Chelsea Geach
Durban - South Africans at home and in New Zealand expressed shock and outrage at the horrific attacks on two mosques in Christchurch which left 49 people dead and scores injured.
New Zealand police confirmed three men and a woman were taken into custody in connection with the attacks. One of the men, in his late twenties, is to be charged with murder and was scheduled to appear in a Christchurch court today.
While authorities did not release any identities, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant filmed the attack on social media. Carrying an automatic rifle and dressed in a camouflage-type outfit, he is seen gunning down men, women and children at close range in Al Noor Mosque shortly before 2pm New Zealand time.
While details of the attacks remained unclear, shots were also fired at a second mosque in the suburb of Linwood about 5km away.
According to the New Zealand Herald, one worshipper at Al Noor Mosque, Nour Tavis, survived the gunman’s rampage by diving out of a window.
“There was shooting and shooting and shooting... people were running and, all of a sudden, you saw them fall.
He saw someone else jump out of a window. “It was the only way to escape. I followed,” said Tavis.
In Christchurch, which is on South Island, late yesterday morning, former Johannesburg nurse Amber Rex, a nursing manager at a medical facility in Christchurch, which she described as “two minutes” from the shooting, said police phoned in to alert them.
“We were put on immediate lockdown. Only police and ambulances were allowed in the city. We are all one people here and we enjoy a massive community feeling. This is like a big, dark cloud.”
Former Pietermaritzburg resident Rich Hurt said his wife, Francoise, had hoped to get home from work before the lockdown took effect. She tried to catch an early bus home.
“I hauled into town to pick her up as we realised the buses would also be taken off the roads. It was the fastest I had ever driven on New Zealand roads.”
He added that the local community was “gutted and in shock” and that everyone had “rallied around the Muslim community in a way only the Kiwis can do”.
Former well-known Durban journalist Giordano “Joe” Stolley, who is editor of the Southland Express in Invercargill, 500km south, said the feeling in New Zealand was “shock, utter shock.
“This is something Kiwis normally watch on TV about some troubled spot elsewhere. Not here. A man stealing PlayStation games from a library was one of the most widely read stories in my publication. So 49 people killed is simply unfathomable.”
In the country’s capital, Wellington, former Durbanite Jacqeline Marriah said: “The way the death toll has been rising is just awful.”
She added that the issue of white supremacy “was not reflective of our day-to-day lives here”.
Marriah said such attitudes were not tolerated in New Zealand and it was unnerving that “we walk around in our society with these idiots and their atrocious beliefs”.
Joining world leaders, President Cyril Ramphosa sent his condolences to those affected in New Zealand.
“The government and the people of South Africa convey their deepest condolences to the families who have lost their loved ones and wish all the injured a speedy recovery,” said Khusela Diko, the spokesperson for the Presidency.
He confirmed none of the victims had been identified as South African.
On Friday in Durban, the chairman of the Muslim Burial Council, Ahmed Paruk, said they had checked with their various councils, but as far as they were aware no South Africans had been in the mosques at the time of the shootings.
He condemned the attack, saying: “We have just come from prayers, where there was a sermon on what happened in Christchurch. We maintain that our faith is about peace. We condemn this attack totally.”
Moulana Ebrahim Bham, secretary-general of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, believes the horrific attack was an orchestrated, well-planned assault aimed at inflicting harm on Muslims.
“We strongly condemn this level of hatred and terror, which we believe is fomented by Islamophobic rhetoric, normalised and ratcheted up in recent times by supposedly responsible leaders in positions of power and influence,” said Bham.
Muslim Judicial Council president Sheikh Irafaan Abrahams said local leaders needed to do more to curtail similar hatred towards and terrorism against any groups in South Africa.
“This includes provocative and divisive speech, which could contribute to an increase in Islamaphobia and racism,” Abrahams said.
“It is critical that we stand together as a community and oppose all acts and words of hatred, terrorism, racism and violence directed at any member of any society, particularly based on their religion, race or affiliation.”
The SA Jewish Board of Deputies also issued a statement yesterday, saying the board “condemns in the strongest possible terms the shootings of worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch”.
“We stand up against hate crimes against all religious communities. Our sympathies are with the families of the deceased and our prayers with those injured. We stand in solidarity with the people of Christchurch. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community.”
The Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa also issued a statement, calling the attack a “senseless killing”.
“This crime against humanity is a consequence of polarising and discriminatory language and the actions of many leaders around the world.
“Their words and actions only serve to make the world an unsafe place for all of humanity,” said the movement. Additional reporting African News Agency (ANA)