The violence that has prevailed in areas of Cape Town and Johannesburg has shifted to the normally quiet black townships around the coastal city of Durban. Nearly 20 people have been killed in the past two days in what has been called the worst outbreak of violence since the South African government declared a state of emergency more than two weeks ago. Durban is not one of the areas included in the emergency decree.
This most recent outbreak -- in the ring of townships around Durban -- involves conflict between the African majority and an Indian minority. Scores of Indians have fled from trouble spots to quieter areas or from smaller, more remote hamlets to areas offering better protection.
The violence also provided evidence of the deepening political rift between blacks. Over the past two years, the United Democratic Front, one of the most prominent legal anti-government groups, has increasingly challenged the position of Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi in the Natal Province.
The event that sparked the violence appears to have been the murder last week of Victoria Mxenge, a high-profile sympathizer with the UDF.
Mrs. Mxenge was a member of the defense counsel in the treason trial of 16 UDF leaders which resumed earlier this week. The UDF has been outspoken in its attempts to have the South African government abandon its policy of apartheid, or strict racial segregation.
Two of the townships around Durban affected by the outbursts are in the Zulu ``homeland'' of KwaZulu. The area's chief minister, Gatsha Buthelezi, has taken a strong stand against street violence, and his million-strong Inkatha movement has generally exercised a restraining influence on black anger.
Until two years ago the Inkatha movement was largely unchallenged in the Zulu-dominated areas of KwaZulu and Natal. But that changed with the launching of the UDF as a national movement in August 1983.
Rivalry developed between the two movements and there have been occasional clashes. One example was the killing of five UDF students by enraged Inkatha supporters in October 1983. The Inkatha men were allegedly goaded into action by insults directed at their movement and its leader. Another was the killing of two Inkatha members last year at a memorial service for a UDF community leader in the township of Lamontville.
These tensions surfaced again after the murder of Mxenge, which triggered a chain reaction of violence. In the KwaZulu townships of Kwamasha and Umlazi the targets of stone-throwing and fire-bombing crowds included administration buildings and officials associated with the Inkatha-dominated KwaZulu government.
Buthelezi blamed the violence on outsiders brought in from surrounding townships. He urged local residents to help ensure that schools remained open and that public buildings were afforded the ``necessary protection.''
Buthelezi went on to accuse a ``certain organization,'' presumably the UDF or one of its affiliates, and the outlawed African National Congress of promoting ``black-on-black confrontation'' and ``black self-laceration'' by encouraging blacks to attack perceived collaborators and burn down their own facilities.
Attacks on KwaZulu buildings and officials, however, may have been prompted by suspicions that Inkatha was behind Mxenge's murder. Similar suspicions arose after the 1981 murder of her husband, Griffiths Mxenge, a former cadre of the outlawed African National Congress. An inquest found that Mr. Mxenge was murdered by ``persons unknown.''
It is the first time in decades that large-scale violence has erupted in townships around Durban. They remained relatively tranquil during the rebellion in black townships of 1976-77, and, until Wednesday, during the unrest that has swept across most of South Africa's townships since September last year.