South Africa's deadly streets claim jazz man

Gito Baloi, a prominent South African jazz musician who has worked with some of the world's most famous artists including Sting, has become the latest victim of his country's violence.

He was shot dead in central Johannesburg early on Sunday as he returned from a performance in Pretoria. The high crime rate, estimated at eight times the overall murder rate in the United States, has earned South Africa the title of "murder capital of the world".

The murder rate in South Africa is estimated at 44 per 100,000 population, compared with 5.5 per 100,000 in the United States. Police put the number of murders in 2000 at 21,683, but Interpol reckons the total to be 54,298. The crime statistics are a major campaign issue with the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, which says it will hire 150,000 more policemen if it wins the national election in 10 days.

Baloi, 39, who was born in Mozambique, was shot in the neck after he made a stopover in central Johannesburg following a concert in Pretoria. Police said Baloi was speaking to people in a crowded area when two men approached and shot him in the neck. He drove for 50 metres and got out and walked for 10 metres then collapsed and died. His wallet was taken but the killers left his car and musical instruments untouched, Chris Wilken, a police spokesman, said.

Nomvula Mokonyane, the provincial minister for safety and security, said it was shameful that people who continued to work tirelessly to raise development standards were being targeted by ruthless criminals.

Baloi gained fame as a member of the award-winning jazz group Tananas and released several popular solo albums. Tributes poured in yesterday and thousands of mourners gathered at Mr Baloi's home in Johannesburg's Kensington suburb yesterday.

Baloi has recorded several albums with artists including Sting, Tracy Chapman, Steve Newman and Ian Herman. His last gig was a duo with Landscape Prayers' Nibs van der Spuy at Pretoria's Lucit Candle-Gardens on Saturday night. "We are usually fully booked, but on Saturday night there were only about 20 people," the owner, Gideon van Eeden, was quoted as saying. "It turns out that is how it should have been. It became a very intimate, special, very spiritual performance," he added.

The youth league of President Thabo Mbeki's ruling African National Congress said: "Gito was an icon for millions of young people and he was contributing to the creation of a free South Africa through art." Damon Forbes, director of Baloi's record company Sheer Sound, said his death had robbed the music world of a gifted and talented composer and musician. Another leading South African star, Tebogo Madingoane of the chart-topping group Mafikizolo, was shot in February after an argument with another driver in Johannesburg's slum township of Soweto.

Families have been kidnapped and murdered in some of the recent violent crimes that have made headlines in South Africa. A white man who has been accused of assaulting a black former employee and feeding him to lions, possibly while still alive, has been denied bail. More than 1,500 farmers, most of them white, have been killed on their properties by raiders in the past few years.

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