Murderous township tit-for-tat runs out of control: John Carlin reports from Katlehong on the human damage in South Africa's worst night of political violence this year

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THE YOUNG man in the blue and white striped pyjamas sat upright in his bed blowing bubbles. Not through his mouth but through his neck. This was Ward Eight at Natalspruit Hospital, Katlehong, where he lay yesterday among 34 other patients, all of them shot or stabbed, all of them fortunate to have survived the worst night of political violence any South African township has seen this year.

Between sunset on Monday and sunrise yesterday 45 people were killed in Katlehong. In the previous 36 hours another 24 had died here and in neighbouring Tokoza. The total of politically-related deaths recorded nationwide since the weekend stood last night at 113.

The young man in the blue and white pyjamas had a 3in-long tube sticking out of his throat, just above his Adam's apple. The hole into which the tube had been fitted was made by a bullet. He was breathing, gurgling, through the tube. Hence the bubbles. Light pink, blood bubbles.

Next to the anonymous victim lay Linda Shweni, who had been shot in the thigh, the face and the nape of the neck. He was in pain but was able to talk. He said he was 17 and at school. He had been in a car with three friends driving not far from Katlehong's Kwesini single-men's hostel, an Inkatha stronghold, when a group of men opened fire on them.

'Three of us were lucky. We were wounded and brought to hospital. I don't know what happened to our other friend. He was wounded but he has disappeared, like the car. Maybe they took him into the hostel. They often do that, then they kill the people.'

Outside Kwesini hostel yesterday evening, the neighbourhood was deserted save for a handful of people seeking to salvage what they could from their burnt-out homes. An old lady was tramping across a dusty field pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with clothes. Two men were carting into a van chairs, beds, charred tables from a house whose windows were all smashed, whose inside walls, once white, had been blackened by fire.

Two army trucks and a dozen soldiers in bullet-proof vests stood by. Albert Faji, the owner of the house, had persuaded them to escort him back to fetch his things.

'Two weeks ago we decided to leave our houses because the hostel- dwellers said they were going to attack,' said Mr Faji, 38. 'Yesterday at 8am we heard from people that they had burnt down all the houses here. So we came to take what was left of the burning. We found they stole the TV, the video, the hi-fi, the fridge, all our clothes.'

Mr Faji, who is a fitter, said he belonged to no political organisation. 'I've never been to school,' he said, in what sounded a bit like a stock reply, 'so I don't know about politics.'

So why all the violence? As far as Mr Faji was concerned, the hostel- dwellers' motives were principally criminal. 'Most of them are unemployed, you know.' Two dozen other people interviewed yesterday in Katlehong offered no more sophisticated explanation. Save, unanimously, to blame the hostel-dwellers.

It was an ANC official in Johannesburg who offered the most balanced version of events. Robert McBride, whose job is to monitor and prevent violence, said Katlehong and Tokoza had witnessed a cycle of revenge killings since April, when the ANC leader Chris Hani was killed. While placing the original blame for the problem squarely at Inkatha's door, he said that the latest round had been initiated by 'ANC-aligned guys who went on the offensive'.

That was on Sunday night. On Monday night the hostel men counter-attacked. 'The thing is getting completely out of control,' Mr McBride said. 'The only answer is for the police to do their job. Which they are not doing at all.'

As was evident yesterday. A spokesman for the Minister of Law and Order, Captain Craig Cotze, told a Johannesburg radio station yesterday afternoon from his office in Pretoria that the police had adopted a policy in the two townships of 'saturation coverage'. But between noon and 5pm yesterday, spent mostly zig-zagging barricades, I spotted just one police car and, in the distance, two police armoured vehicles. After Mr Faji had packed up his things, the soldiers escorting him hurriedly, nervously, evacuated the Kwesini area. It was nearly nightfall.

(Photograph omitted)

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