3 dozen die in violence in north Johannesburg

March 12, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

ALEXANDRA, South Africa -- More than three dozen people were killed in three days of bloody factional fighting that brought black township violence within a stone's throw of the middle-class white suburbs of Johannesburg.

Tensions remained high yesterday as hundreds of soldiers patrolled this township in northern Johannesburg and stationed themselves as a barrier between Zulu migrant workers and other township residents.

The Zulus were fenced inside in a massive multistory hostel for migrant workers, wearing red headbands and carrying spears and shields. Hundreds of community residents lined up outside the hostel gate complaining of a weekend rampage by Zulu assailants.

"They said if you are not a Zulu, get out," said one woman who was standing in the crowd outside with a baby tied to her back. She said she lived in a settlement of shacks adjacent to the hostel and was now uncertain whether she had a home.

Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Alexandra and two other tense nearby townships, Soweto and Thembisa. At least four people were killed in a migrant-worker hostel in Soweto Sunday night and two others in Thembisa, according to police.

A spokesman for the Zulu workers said the trouble started after a hostel dweller was slain by local residents, but his story was disputed by leaders of a local civic group.

Soldiers provided escorts all day yesterday for non-Zulu lTC residents of the hostel who fled during the violence but wanted to return to collect their belongings. A steady stream of men carrying bags and blankets tied around their possessions left the hostel. They said they had no place to go.

The weekend violence was the first outbreak of factional fighting in Alexandra township, a 70-year-old black residential area that survived the white government's campaigns to remove blacks from urban centers.

"All I can say is on Friday we were not expecting it. I drove through the township and it was not particularly tense," said Dr. Tim Wilson, director of the Alexandra Health Center, the township's only major health-care facility.

"For two years people have worked hard to avoid this kind of conflict," he said, noting that there had been a series of meetings between leaders of the local civic association and hostel dwellers.

"I'm fairly sure there are some people from outside Alex who stirred things up. Residents were involved in the fighting, but I think people from outside were getting people stirred up and setting up a Zulu-Xhosa rivalry."

Most of the fighting that devastated other townships around Johannesburg last year involved supporters of the country's two main black political groups, the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress, which has a large following among the Xhosa ethnic group.

Dr. Wilson said that there were rumors last year that Inkatha regiments were coming to cause trouble but that those rumors never materialized.

Dr. Wilson said 269 people were admitted to the health center between Saturday and yesterday morning, most of them victims of the weekend fighting. "There is still ongoing violence today," he added.

Police officials announced that they would arrest anyone seen on the streets carrying a gun or spear. Riot unit Capt. A. J. Buytendag made the announcement to a gathering of more than 500 Inkatha supporters inside the hostel, most of whom were carrying weapons at the time.

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