As the families of the patrons killed at Mdlalose’s Tavern in Nomzamo informal settlement in Soweto prepare to bury their relatives this coming weekend, police are still in the dark about who pulled the trigger.
“Currently there are no suspects arrested but a team of investigators is on the ground following any leads received. No information is taken lightly,” said Gauteng police spokesperson Dimakatso Sello.
Last week police minister Bheki Cele said police have identified five suspects while Gauteng MEC for community safety Faith Mazibuko said police have obtained a video that will assist investigators search for clues in the murders.
According to a police source the footage suggests those who opened fire are part of a gang of Lesotho nationals who also killed a rival gang member in Klipspruit hours before the massacre at Mdlalose’s Tavern in Orlando.
Lerotha Hlabanyane, 44, was shot several times outside his rented home at about 9pm.
His mother, Mariam, said the deceased had recently left the gang and his decision was not well received by his peers.
“My son assured me and his wife that he has changed his ways. He was working in a construction plant and was taking good care of us here in Johannesburg. We are aware that most of his friends from Lesotho did not want him to leave the gang. All those friends have not visited or called us since his passing,” said his mother.
His family and neighbours said they did not see who killed the father of one.
“While we were standing with the police where my husband was killed we heard the sounds of gunshots coming from Nomzamo informal settlement. This was approximately three hours after my husband was killed,” said his wife, Madineo Nkete. No arrests have been made. Fifteen families have identified 16 of the people who were killed at Mdlalose’s. Most of those identified are from Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal.
Thabo Koepe, 34, is the only Lesotho national who was killed. Allegations are that Koepe was part of a Lesotho gang and was the person targeted by the gunmen.
“Unfortunately I cannot confirm those allegations about Lesotho gangs,” said Sello.
Police have secured statements from all those admitted to hospital.
Meanwhile, police are still piecing together information around a group of men who shot several people playing a game of dice at Thembelihle in Lenasia on Saturday night.
Four people were killed and two sustained bullet wounds in the shooting. No arrests have been made in this case.
“The unfortunate shooting incidents that happened in Gauteng in the past two weeks cannot be confirmed to be related,” said police spokesperson Lt-Col Mavela Masondo.
By dawn, another 16 people had been massacred at Mdlalose’s tavern, 2km away, a shooting believed to have been caused by a feud between two illegal mining groups.
A raging feud, characterised by initiation and revenge killings between two rival illegal mining gangs from Lesotho, is believed to be at the centre of last weekend’s horrific shooting at Mdlalose’s tavern in Soweto that claimed 16 lives.
The two groups, one of which is a splinter from the other, have been locked in a cycle of revenge killings in Gauteng, the Free State and North West from last year. While the rivalry goes back many years, a leadership vacuum caused by a Covid-19 death has weakened the biggest gang, opening it up for a takeover.
The Sunday Times has established that one of the 16 victims was a Lesotho national allegedly targeted by rival gunmen who opened fire indiscriminately at patrons. The dead man, Thabo Kwepe, was a member of Terene ea Chakela (Chakela’s train) gang and was hunted down to Mdlalose’s tavern on the night of the shooting.
Kwepe, one of two tavern shooting victims who had not been identified until now, was believed to have been the sole target, while the 15 others were bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time. A total of 137 spent cartridges were found on the scene.
Three hours before the deadly attack, another Terene ea Chakela member was lured out of his house and shot dead in cold blood in Klipspruit, 2km from Mdlalose’s tavern.
Terrene ea Chakela and its splinter group, Terene ea Mokata, were at loggerheads before the death of its leader Rethabile Mokete, known as Khosi Mosotho Chakela, who died of Covid-19 in Bloemfontein in January last year.
According to reports in Lesotho, Chakela was a key suspect in the murder of Lipolelo Thabane, the estranged wife of Lesotho’s former prime minister Tom Thabane.
One of Chakela’s lieutenants, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Sunday Times that the attack was carried out with the intention of exterminating their group.
“That attack was meant for our group members. One of our members was shot dead in the attack. We know that this group was hunting down our members that night and we can confirm that the attack was intended for us.”
He said the rift between the groups was a result of a falling out between Chakela and another lieutenant, Sarele Sello, who broke away from Chakela’s Terene in 2018 to form his own gang, Terene ea Mokata.
“The fighting is not only about turf, it’s about building a bigger group that is able to carry out activities such as illegal mining and any other lucrative illegal activities,” he said.
“The war has been raging from before Chakela’s death but it’s been worse [since he died] because we don’t have an out-and-out leader.”