DURBAN, South Africa — Armored vehicles filled with army troops rumbled through parts of Natal province Saturday to enforce emergency rule, but 13 people were killed overnight in the bitter factional violence that has ravaged this rugged Zulu region and threatens the country's first free elections this month.
In one incident, gunmen opened fire with assault rifles on a pre-dawn church service in rural Bhekuzulu, killing three people, including a 7-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy. Eleven others were wounded, including the minister.
Two people were killed minutes before in an attack on a nearby home, police said. It was not clear if the shootings were related.
Four others, including two police officers, were shot to death in Kwamashu township, one of the fiercest fronts in the undeclared war between Zulu followers of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress and Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.
"We must defend ourselves, we must," said a 28-year-old ANC guerrilla in Kwamashu who gave his name as Sipho. He and a dozen other young men guarded the corner of a street lined with burned and bullet-riddled homes.
Not far down the road, five ANC members on a pre-announced peace mission were executed last week inside an Inkatha-run men's dormitory hostel.
"If you use that street, they will kill you," Sipho warned.
The overnight bloodshed, which claimed four other lives elsewhere in the volatile eastern province of Natal, was the worst since President Frederik W. de Klerk declared an official state of emergency Thursday to ensure that free elections will be possible April 26-28. The emergency order covers Natal and the self-governing Zulu territory of KwaZulu.
The state of emergency was declared after 53 people were killed in downtown Johannesburg and outlying townships after violence broke out at a Zulu nationalist march.
Fears are growing that Buthelezi's militant followers will use intimidation and violence to wreck the all-race balloting in large parts of Natal, or that the mineral-rich province with two of the nation's largest ports, Durban and Richards Bay, will be ungovernable under a future ANC-led government.
The emergency regulations allow security forces to detain individuals for up to 30 days without charge, strictly limit marches and meetings and ban the carrying of everything from machine guns to sharp sticks.
But what initially appeared to be a fierce crackdown to quell the growing unrest did not have much teeth Saturday. The military announced at a press briefing here that only 450 combat troops had been brought in, bringing the total force deployed under the emergency to about 1,200.
Col. Frans Verfuss refused to indicate how many more troops will be brought in, saying merely that "further reinforcements will join them in due course."
Verfuss appeared at pains to lower expectations about what the military could accomplish in South Africa's smallest province but biggest headache. More than 2,000 people were killed in Natal and KwaZulu last year--nearly half the total killed in political violence in the whole country. At least 8 million people live in the province.
"Given the present levels of violence in KwaZulu and Natal, we do have sufficient forces," Verfuss said.
He added: "We can't saturate the province. We can't be at every given place at any given time."
Indeed, few soldiers were in evidence at some of the major flash points around Durban early Saturday.
At dawn, two armored vehicles--one with police, the other army--stood on a muddy hill overlooking Bhambayi, one of the most miserable of the country's squatter camps.
"During the day, they fight," a 33-year-old police sergeant said, pointing to the smoky sprawl of tar-paper shacks, tin-roofed shanties and mud huts. "At night, they only go and kill."
ANC and Inkatha raiding parties routinely torch homes, shoot bystanders and sow terror to win control of the blighted community.
Ironically, this was once home to the world's most famous apostle of peace, Mohandas K. Gandhi, who spent 21 years in South Africa before returning to India to lead the campaign for independence. He founded a printing plant and formed a small commune in Bhambayi to preach nonviolent resistance.
Today, the printing plant lies in ruins except for a wall still emblazoned "Mahatma Gandhi International Printing Press--Founded 1903." It was burned and looted in the mid-1980s when squatters forced Indian residents out. A former Gandhi museum and community center is also trashed, although refugees from the fighting sleep inside at night.
Six ANC followers with spears, machetes and knobkerries--a traditional Zulu club--marched by, returning home after a nightlong patrol.
"Everybody is waiting for a fight," one said wearily. But he added, "Everybody, we want to vote."
Up the muddy road, past barefoot women fetching water from a puddle, another Inkatha man vowed the opposite.