"When these people started shooting, the women accompanying them were ululating and singing songs of praise," said a 12-year-old girl who survived Monday's slaughter of African National Congress (ANC) supporters on the south coast of the troubled KwaZulu-Natal province.
The girl, evacuated by police to Port Shepstone, said she was too frightened to give her name. She had seen a friend shot, and had lost an uncle who had been chopped to pieces by extremists wielding long knives.
By the time the shooting, stabbing and burning was over, at least 19 people were dead, 22 wounded and scores more made homeless. The attackers razed 87 huts and houses and ransacked dozens more. As many as 100 people are unaccounted for.
KwaZulu-Natal has been the site of a running war between the ANC of President Nelson Mandela and the Inkatha movement of the Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, which has killed 13,000 in a decade of tit-for-tat slaughter.
But the stories from survivors and police investigators of the attack on Shobashobane - tales of women goading men to kill while they looted homes, of children shot and stabbed without mercy - made the KwaZulu- Natal south coast sound more like Rwanda, where, during last year's organised killing of ethnic Tutsis, Hutu women routinely encouraged their men with chants.
According to a spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal police, Superintendent Bala Naidoo, the participation of women in political violence was uncommon, but everything about Monday's attack was extraordinary. "This is the first time we've seen an attack like this on such a large scale in broad daylight," he said. From 600 to 1,000 men armed with guns, spears and knives hit the village in a well-orchestrated attack.
One of the first victims was the local ANC chairman, Kipha Nyawusa. He died after his stomach was slit open with "bush knives".
A teenage boy, Mzwandile Zulu, told a group of journalists how he fled the impis, or columns of warriors, after he was shot in the arm and the buttocks.
"I managed to get to my feet while the others were running," he said. "The impi was getting close to me. My arm was burning and so was my bottom."
Shobashobane was an ANC enclave in a vast pro-Inkatha area. ANC supporters fled last year because of violence and threats but returned four months ago. Since then, according to ANC officials and police, Inkatha supporters have placed the village under virtual siege, cutting it off from Izingolweni, about 20 miles inland from Port Shepstone.
Many survivors said the police were warned that an attack was imminent, but they did little except to disarm ANC members.
"It took a long, long time until the police arrived. We sat there watching our houses burn, and very, very much later we saw a police van approaching and it actually didn't do anything," the 12-year-old girl said.
Jacob Zuma, the ANC provincial leader, said yesterday that the police had failed to act quickly because they were biased in favour of Inkatha.
The military precision of the attack has raised suspicions that a so- called "third-force" alliance of Inkatha extremists and right-wing security officials may be behind the recent wave of killings in the province.Reuse content