Eight people were killed and three others wounded when gunmen opened fire at a birthday party in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, local officials said.
Sunday’s attack is the latest in a series of shootings that has highlighted the country’s problems dealing with violent crime and the increasingly widespread use of deadly weapons.
The attack was carried out at a private home by two men late on Sunday afternoon in Kwazakele, Gqeberha, a spokesperson for the South African police service said in a statement.
Local media reported that seven people – three women and four men – were killed almost immediately. Four others were taken with gunshot wounds to hospital, where one died from their injuries.
The gunmen fled after the attack and no arrests have been made, police said. They are investigating the circumstances and possible motives for the attack. Police have not named the victims but confirmed the owner of the house was among them.
“These victims were killed by criminals, and we will not rest until we find out what happened and who was responsible for [this] callous and cold-blooded attack on these unsuspecting victims,” said the Eastern Cape SAPS commissioner, Nomthetheleli Lillian Mene.
South Africa has long been blighted by high levels of violent crime, one of many legacies of decades of rule by the repressive, racist apartheid regime but killings with guns have been rising year on year for a decade.
Four attacks within days in July focused attention on the problem. In the most serious incident, gunmen used automatic rifles and handguns to kill 15 people and injure a further eight in a mass shooting at a tavern in Johannesburg’s Soweto township on 10 July.
A key witness to the attack, in the Nomzamo informal settlement in the Orlando East neighbourhood, disappeared last week and is feared dead.
Most deaths in these incidents were the result of personal quarrels between individuals, experts say, but an increasing proportion of killings are the work of groups including vigilantes, politically motivated criminal networks and organised gangs. Between April and the end of June 2021, 5,760 homicides were committed in South Africa, one of the highest per capita rates in the world. About a third of violent crimes recorded each month involve firearms.
The continued inability of the country’s police forces to enforce the rule of law in parts of the country has led to fierce criticism from opponents and some allies of the ruling African National Congress, which has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Many say gun crime is part of much wider problems of governance and the rule of law in South Africa, which suffered during the nine-year rule of Cyril Ramaphosa’s predecessor as president, Jacob Zuma.
The shootings have revived a fierce debate over the reform of gun laws in South Africa. An attempt to end the right to own a gun for self-defence ran into stiff opposition when mooted last year.
Opponents argued the high level of violent crime meant that “denying people the right to defend themselves amounts to a denial of the right to life, security, and psychological and bodily integrity”, and called instead for better policing.
Campaigners said there was no evidence to back such claims and that the new laws would help reduce the number of weapons available to criminals, making everyone safer.