Hundreds of blacks today laid siege to an Indian settlement founded by Mahatma Gandhi, where defending Asian vigilantes opened fire with shotguns and boosted the death toll in four days of riots near Durban to at least 55.
The rioters, mostly Zulu tribesmen who live in the area, rampaged through the former home of Gandhi, and the late Indian pacifist's Phoenix Center complex became a raging battlefield.
At Gandhi's house, the centerpiece of a self-help community for blacks and Asians, youths tore books from shelves in the Gandhi Memorial Library and smashed pictures. About 50 blacks set fire to the neighboring home of Gandhi's son Mamilali and torched a nearby school, witnesses said.
Indian residents defended the settlement with shotguns and pistols against the black youths, who chanted the Zulu war cry usuthu! (freedom) as they marched up a hill to the Gandhi shrine armed with knives, scythes and sticks.
More than 1,500 Indians who fled their burning homes in nearby Inanda over the last two days had been sheltered in the Phoenix Center's community hall.
Gandhi lived for 21 years in South Africa, returning to India in 1914 to help lead that nation's independence from Britain.
The number of deaths in today's fighting could not be accurately determined, but a compilation of police figures, hospital admissions, local press reports and witness accounts indicated at least 53 black and two Asian fatalities in four days of riots around Durban.
The deaths brought to at least 530 the number of people killed in 11 months since the introduction of a constitution that gave new political rights to Asians and Coloreds but made no concessions to the nation's 22 million blacks.
Police said they have killed 22 blacks since violence flared Tuesday in the Umlazi and Kwa-mashu townships near Durban, including one man killed today during a clash between riot squads in armored trucks and Zulu impis, or warrior gangs, throwing rocks and spears.
Some accounts said the racial violence was prompted by the refusal of Asian traders to close shops and businesses in response to a black-organized boycott.
Reporters said blacks' anger was probably directed at Asians also because of their participation in a year-old tri-racial Parliament that excludes the nation's 22 million blacks, who make up 70% of the population.
Criticism From Tutu
In Johannesburg, Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu said at a special prayer service for peace at the city's Anglican cathedral that the state of emergency imposed by the government July 21 is "unjust."
"You will never get true justice, peace and stability from the barrel of a gun. These things will come when apartheid has been dismantled," he told a congregation of about 400 blacks and whites.
Wrecked and burned cars and trucks lined roads in the Umlazi and Kwa-mashu townships and a pall of smoke hung over the communities. Rioters set fire to a supermarket complex in Kwa-mashu early today as police battled to restore order, witnesses said.
The rioting around Durban was triggered by the Aug. 1 murder of black civil rights lawyer Victoria Mxenge just days before she was to defend 16 black leaders who went on trial this week charged with treason. Radicals charged that she was killed by a government "death squad."