THOKOZA, South Africa -- Tensions between rival black groups erupted in a new round of fighting in this battle-weary township yesterday, resulting in at least 52 deaths during a 24-hour period.
Thousands of Thokoza residents fled their homes in a grim replay of scenes from August and September, when more than 800 people died in township clashes in the region around Johannesburg.
Police imposed a nighttime curfew on Thokoza and three other townships where violence had flared. They said 71 people were killed in the four townships between Sunday and yesterday afternoon.
Hospital wards were filled with the injured. Some people said they were shot by police who opened fire on crowds, using both birdshot and bullets.
Dr. Ronald Mitchell, acting administrator of Natalspruit Hospital in Thokoza, said 53 people were treated there for injuries Sunday night and another 75 yesterday morning. He said most of those admitted to the hospital had been shot.
Witnesses told different stories about what happened, but they agreed the fighting pitted Zulu residents of a large hostel for migrant workers against Xhosas and members of other ethnic groups, who live in a squatter camp nearby.
Some of the hospital patients said they were attacked by gangs of Zulus from the hostel. But several young men said they were shot by police who fired at random as they drove through the township.
At the hostel, where groups of Zulus were gathered, residents blamed the fighting on men from the squatter camp. The Zulus are supporters of the Inkatha political group, led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, while many of the squatter camp residents are supporters of the rival African National Congress.
Witnesses said Zulus burned dozens of homes in the Phola Park squatter camp and went from house to house, looking for Xhosas to slay.
"The Zulus are killing us," said Sylvia Sontyhantya, who came to Natalspruit Hospital with her three children for shelter. She said a gang broke into neighboring houses and pushed at her door but left, apparently thinking no one was at home.
Zulus at the hostel admitted they went on a house-to-house search for Xhosa men but said they did so in retaliation against a similar search the previous day by Xhosas.
The hostel residents also said police shot and killed several men as they stood in a group at the entrance to the hostel compound.
Police denied the charges, saying they were the target of a propaganda campaign.
Police said the corpses they recovered had been shot, hacked, decapitated, emasculated or "necklaced," an attack in which an oil-filled tire is placed around a person's neck and set afire.