JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Twenty people have been killed in two days of fierce tribal fighting in the Moutse area over the South African government's plan to place Moutse's population of 120,000 under the rule of a rival tribe, residents say.
Maredi Chueu, who represents Moutse in a local legislative assembly, said here Thursday that the dead include 17 Ndebele tribesmen from neighboring Kwandebele and one Moutse resident. Two black South African policemen also were killed, according to police headquarters in Pretoria, and their bodies then mutilated.
So far, the minority white government shows no sign of backing away from the plan to incorporate Moutse, whose population is largely of the Pedi tribe, into Kwandebele, a tribal homeland for the Ndebeles that is planning to accept "independence" later this year.
The fighting began Wednesday and continued into Thursday with what Chueu described as "vigilante raids" into Moutse by members of the Ndebele tribe apparently aimed at taking over Moutse's 255 square miles of land and minerals.
"A bloodbath is beginning in Moutse," Chueu said, "and the South African government, the police and the army seem only to be cheering it on because blacks are killing blacks."
Black Sash Warning
A further warning on the Moutse crisis came from the Black Sash, a liberal, predominantly white, women's group that monitors civil rights abuses here. It described the conflict as "potentially more bloody than anything we have yet seen in South Africa."
If 20 or more have died, as residents said, the clashes rank with some of the worst in the last year and a half of civil unrest in which more than 1,000 have been killed.
Residents said that most of the reported Moutse deaths resulted when the district's men, supported by other Pedis from nearby areas, ambushed intruding Ndebele vigilantes.
More deaths are feared if the Ndebeles, in retaliation for their own losses, execute the 40 to 60 Moutse men they reportedly kidnaped from the district and are holding as hostages.
"We have told the government we are prepared to resist to the last man, and that means there may be 120,000 dead from Moutse and at least that many from Kwandebele," Chueu said. "We are talking about a civil war--a small one perhaps, but nevertheless a civil war."
Moutse's residents, who speak Northern Sotho, are ethnically different from the Ndebele, a rebellious offshoot of the Zulu nation, and say that they had been settled in the district for more than 200 years before any Ndebeles arrived. Thus, they are incensed at being put under Ndebele rule.
Citizenship Loss Feared
Also, they fear that they will lose their South African citizenship when Kwandebele accepts nominal independence and that this will make it very difficult for them to hold their present commuter jobs in white cities such as Pretoria. And they see themselves as a perpetual minority in Kwandebele with their language, cultural and other rights ignored.
Beneath part of Moutse, according to Chueu, are significant deposits of chrome, coal and uranium, and mining these would greatly help to underwrite Kwandebele's development.
J. Christiaan Heunis, the minister for constitutional development and planning, who ordered Moutse's incorporation into Kwandebele, said through a spokesman late Thursday that he is following the situation closely but sees no reason to change his position. The spokesman said he might attempt to mediate on Monday. Earlier, Heunis had declared that his decision was final despite repeated warnings that incorporation would bring violence.
Police, meanwhile, said they could confirm only eight deaths in Moutse, including those of the two policemen, but added that more bodies could be found in coming days.
Detailed accounts of the fighting from Chueu and local residents reached by telephone left little doubt, however, that many more people, possibly more than the reported 20, have been killed there. Sporadic clashes continued late Thursday.
6 More Deaths
Police reported the deaths of six other persons, all blacks, elsewhere around the country.
In one of the black squatter settlements outside Cape Town, police found the bodies of two blacks whose skulls had been crushed and their hands tied behind their backs. The killings appeared to be the result of fighting between the "Comrades," youthful militants who have led many of the anti-government protests over the past year, and the "Fathers," as a group of older men campaigning to bring the youths under control describe themselves.
In Alexandra, a black ghetto township on the edge of Johannesburg's wealthiest suburbs, two men were killed in a fight between Zulu and Pondo tribesmen that apparently stemmed from the recent major battle near Durban between Zulus and Pondos. The fighting continued much of Wednesday and Thursday, police said.
A black woman was shot and killed by police near Middleburg in Cape province after a mob attacked a police car with stones, axes and a variety of other weapons, according to police headquarters in Pretoria.
And in Durban, hospital officials reported the death of at least one of the 10 black youths wounded after a mob of black youths rampaged across the beach reserved for Indians under South Africa's apartheid laws.
Further unrest was reported from Soshanguve near Pretoria, from Kwazakele and other black townships near Port Elizabeth and Burgersdorp in eastern Cape province.