After almost daily clashes between rival black political groups around the South African city of Pietermaritzburg, police are moving heavily armed reinforcements into the area in an effort to end the violence that has taken the lives of more than 250 people in the last four months.
Lt. Gen. Roelf van Vuuren, the acting national police commissioner, said in Pretoria that "the situation in Pietermaritzburg is of grave concern to all of us," and that the government is determined to restore peace to the area as rapidly as possible.
He said he has begun deploying additional police in the black townships around the city early this week after a surge in violence over the holidays in the wake of the collapse of various mediation efforts.
"More police are on the way," Van Vuuren promised in the government's first statement in nearly two years on the fighting in Pietermaritzburg, Durban and other cities in Natal province. Under a state of emergency, security forces have substantially reduced the violence in most other areas of the country, but they have had little success in Natal.
Although police headquarters in Pretoria refused to say how many men have been sent to Pietermaritzburg, or what their orders were, residents in the city's black townships said Wednesday that hundreds of policemen, most of them armed with shotguns and rifles, were patrolling the streets.
In some areas, they were arresting blacks suspected of involvement in the fighting, according to residents, and detaining them under the state of emergency.
Police headquarters in Pretoria declined to provide details of the operation. The emergency regulations prohibit the news media from reporting any security force activities not made public officially.
The police effort, whatever its size, did not bring an immediate end to the fighting between the United Democratic Front, a coalition of 750 anti-apartheid groups with 3 million members nationwide, and Inkatha, the predominantly Zulu political movement of 1.3 million led by Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi.
6 More Reported Killed
Six people were killed in the most recent clashes, police headquarters reported Wednesday in Pretoria; five had been killed the previous day.
Three men were found with their throats slashed at Willow Fountains, near Pietermaritzburg, the police said; two more bodies were found with stab wounds in other townships, and a youth was knocked down by a car and killed as a crowd stopped vehicles in Edendale, the largest ghetto on the city's outskirts.
The only reported police actions were the arrests of 27 of those involved in stopping cars in Edendale and the arrests of nine others, also in Edendale, after a shot was fired at policemen who said they fired back while dispersing an "illegal gathering." The police refused to give any further details.
Both the United Democratic Front and Inkatha strongly oppose apartheid, South Africa's system of racial separation and minority white rule, but they differ sharply on the strategy to be used by blacks and on the political system that would replace it.
The fighting in Natal is widely interpreted as part of a power struggle between Inkatha and the African National Congress, which draws broad support among blacks throughout the country, even though it has been outlawed for more than a quarter-century. For the African National Congress, Inkatha represents the most serious challenge to its claim to leadership of South Africa's 26 million blacks.
Since its formation in 1983, the United Democratic Front has been at odds with Inkatha, which views the front as a legal surrogate for the ANC. The clashes began nearly two years ago around Durban and have become particularly intense around Pietermaritzburg as the United Democratic Front has attempted to wrest the area from Inkatha's control.