Floods in South Africa kill at least 130

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The Independent Online


It was a Christmas of death and destruction in KwaZulu-Natal province. At least 130 people were killed in flash floods overnight on Monday when the Umsunduzi river and its main tributary, the Slangspruit, burst their banks due to heavy seasonal rains.

Entire families were swept away with their corrugated iron shacks and meagre possessions when the flood waters hit the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg. The victims all lived in the Imbali squatter settlement next to the Edendale black township.

Police divers and rescue teams spent all day yesterday pulling bodies out of the river, while distraught residents waded through a sea of mud, scouring the rivers and banks for any sign of missing loved ones. The sound of wailing relatives filled the air as the dead, mostly teenagers and children, were pulled out of the river.

The death toll rose as more bodies were washed up or caught on debris as the flood waters subsided. Scores of people were still unaccounted for late yesterday and police expected the numbers of dead to increase overnight. There also were fears that more rain last night could make the situation worse.

The flood followed a politically motivated massacre on the province's south coast on Christmas morning, making this one of the bloodiest holiday periods on record.

Police said that at least 17 people, including women and an infant, had been burnt, shot or hacked to death by hundreds of rampaging supporters of the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Armed with spears, axes and guns, the Inkatha extremists attacked the Shobashobane settlement, a stronghold of their rivals in President Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

The attackers torched more than 80 homes, shooting and stabbing people as they tried to flee the fires. As tension and fear mounted, survivors took refuge in schools and community centres in nearby Port Shepstone yesterday

It was the third massacre in 11 days, signalling a big jump in political violence in South Africa's most troubled province.

The upsurge in violence has been blamed on a turf war between the ANC and Inkatha in the run-up to local elections in March.

Police suspected that yesterday's raid was aimed at pushing ANC supporters out of the Shobashobane through a campaign of terror.

However, the brutality and modus operandi of the killers have also raised suspicions that a so-called "third force" alliance of Inkatha extremists and right-wing security officials might be behind the latest wave of killings, to destabilise the province and make it ungovernable for President Mandela.