/Crackers, chaos and calmness: Victim recounts New Year’s shoot out in Melville

Crackers, chaos and calmness: Victim recounts New Year’s shoot out in Melville

43-year-old Mortimer Williams washed his dishes before he made his way to his gig in Melville, Johannesburg, on New Year’s Eve.

He glanced down at his sterling white Nikes and saw some red blotches on his shoes. He thought he should give them a quick wipe, but when he looked again, the marks were gone – his mind was playing tricks on him.

He then made his way to popular restaurant Poppy’s, where he had been asked to do a music set on short notice for New Year’s Eve.

With his wife and child in Cape Town, Williams agreed because he did not want to spend New Year’s alone.

The place was abuzz with positive energy, high spirits and the hopefulness the New Year usually brings with it.

As the clock struck midnight, the countdown began. A new year was welcomed in.  

“I saw a friend of mine outside that I didn’t wish, so I walked out, wished him and turned back,” Williams said.

“Then I heard what sounded like crackers, but then I felt this thud against my back and that took me to the ground. I thought, ‘those were not crackers, they were gunshots’.”

Rain of bullets

A black BMW SUV had driven
past the restaurant just after 01:00 and opened fire, killing two women
and injuring six other people.

The reason for the shooting is unknown, but police have launched a manhunt for the gunmen.

Williams said there was no argument beforehand, no commotion, just a sudden rain of bullets.

Williams said he heard more than six gunshots before the place erupted in panic and chaos. He put his face to the ground.

melville poppys shooting johannesburg

Flowers line the street outside Poppy’s in Melville, Johannesburg on 2 January 2020 after two people were killed in a shooting incident on New Year’s Eve. (Sharlene Rood, News24)

“People were screaming, running, ducking under tables… I didn’t want to see anything else anymore,” he said.

Eventually, a Good Samaritan rushed to Williams’ side, took off his shirt and placed it on his wound. He told Williams to keep breathing and to keep his eyes open.  

The bullet went clean through Williams’ back, leaving an entry and exit wound.

“I managed to call a friend who came immediately, and he sat with me. He forced me to keep my attention on him, because to my right, two ladies were dying.

‘I’m not ready to die’

“But I just looked to my right and they passed on,” Williams said.

With his friend beside him, he started to pray. All he could think was, “I’m not ready to die, I’m not ready to die, I’m not ready to die”.

“You don’t have a choice; all you can do is lay down and think. And even with the chaos around you, there’s this weird calm that comes over you. It’s very surreal.”

The police and ambulance arrived very swiftly, Williams said, immediately getting to work on the women lying next to him. But they had already died. A silver blanket was pulled over their heads.

crime

Flowers line the street outside Poppy’s in Melville, Johannesburg on 2 January 2020 after two people were killed in a shooting incident on New Year’s Eve. (Sharlene Rood, News24)

They took Williams to Helen Joseph Hospital, where he is still recovering.

“In the ER, I looked down at my shoes and I saw almost the same blotches on my shoes as before, but this time it was blood.

“That was a premonition, and I should have known,” he said.

Williams said the bullet narrowly missed his kidneys and colon, and made a clean exit through his pelvis.

He has been walking around the hospital and talking to other victims of the tragedy.


“When you look into their eyes, you just see sort of a blank stare”


“That’s sort of like therapy for us, to get it out and analyse what happened. But when you look into their eyes, you just see sort of a blank stare. I haven’t looked into my own eyes,” he said.

Acting Gauteng Premier Panyza Lesufi, along with Community Safety MEC Faith Mazibuko, will visit the victims on Friday.

Williams said he had also spoken with police on Thursday morning. 

“It does make you angry, it upsets you.

“My daughter is going to be 13 years old next year. From a safety point of view, where does that leave us?

“As human beings, how can someone be so brazen and just fire into a crowd of people just wanting to go into the new year on a clean slate and have fun?”

Williams said he would be moving forward and would not live in fear.

“God has given me a second chance and I need to pursue the goals and dreams I have. It all could have changed so easily,” he said.

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