JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Despite continuing tribal clashes, the South African government reaffirmed Friday its intention to place the 120,000 residents of Moutse, a district 100 miles northeast of here, under the rule of a rival tribe as part of its policy of creating nominally independent tribal homelands.
At least 20 people, including two black police officers, have been killed in the fighting between Moutse's residents, members of the Pedi tribe, and neighboring Ndebeles.
J. Christiaan Heunis, the minister for constitutional development and planning, said in the government's first reaction to the bloodshed in Moutse this week that the district's Pedi residents have a choice: They must either accept incorporation into the neighboring Ndebele tribal homeland, Kwandebele, or move out of the area and into the Pedis' own homeland nearby, Lebowa.
Moutse residents should end their opposition and begin negotiating the terms for their incorporation into Kwandebele, Heunis said, because Pretoria will not change its decision to annex the district to Kwandebele before Kwandebele becomes "independent" later this year.
"The South African government has over a long period of time considered the matter with the greatest understanding and compassion," Heunis said in a statement from Cape Town, "and it has concluded that after all the factors had been thoroughly considered it would be in the interests of all concerned that the area be included in the territory of Kwandebele."
Recalcitrants to Be Moved
Those Pedis not wanting to live in Kwandebele, Heunis said, will be moved out of the area, where their tribe has lived for more than two centuries, and resettled about 55 miles to the north on land being given to Lebowa.
Although Heunis had declared earlier that the South African Parliament would review the whole controversy, which goes back more than six years, he made it clear in his statement Friday that the government considers its decision final and, despite the violence, is not seeking a compromise with Moutse residents.
Heunis' statement brought new warnings from Moutse that further fighting is now inevitable. The government decision, according to Moutse leaders, will embolden the Kwandebele vigilantes, about 1,000 of whom are now gathered at the district's borders, armed and ready to attack, and will stiffen resistance by Moutse residents supported by Pedi tribesmen from other areas.
"The government decision not to reconsider will be recorded by history as one of those fateful and fatal moves that caused a war," Maredi Chueu, who has represented Moutse in the Lebowa legislative assembly for eight years, commented, "because that is what is now beginning--a full-scale war.
Heavy Casualties Seen
"I don't know how many will die, but we won't be counting casualties in the tens, as we are now, and probably not the hundreds, but the thousands."
The South African police, meanwhile, denied charges by Chueu and other Moutse political leaders that they were ignoring attacks on the district's residents, including its tribal chiefs and elders, by heavily armed vigilantes from neighboring Kwandebele attempting to force Moutse to accept incorporation.
"The police are striving to contain the unrest and lawlessness in the area," police headquarters in Pretoria said in a statement, noting that two of its constables, both black, were killed in the area this week.
Reporting one more death in the fighting that began New Year's Eve, police headquarters said that it could confirm only 10 deaths, including the two policemen, and not the 20 reported by Moutse leaders.
Moutse residents have charged that they are being given to Kwandebele to reward it for accepting nominal independence from South Africa and to bolster one of the country's most impoverished tribal homelands by adding Moutse's skilled labor force, its well-established health service and school system and its potentially rich mineral resources.
They fear that once they are incorporated into Kwandebele they will lose their South African citizenship and perhaps will no longer be able to commute to urban jobs. They also are concerned that, as a minority, they will be second-class citizens and their Northern Sotho language will be outlawed by the Ndebele-dominated homeland government. They fear that Kwandebele rule will prove even harsher than South African.
The only hope Moutse has now, according to specialists here on South Africa's homelands policy, is a court challenge to the district's incorporation. There is a chance that the residents might win because of a victory in a similar suit about two years ago. Such a court decision, the specialists suggested, would also let South Africa back out of its agreement with Kwandebele without any loss of face.
Four more people, all blacks, died Friday in violence elsewhere in South Africa, according to police headquarters in Pretoria.