The government began deploying heavily armed soldiers and police Tuesday after President F.W. de Klerk ordered a major crackdown on black factional fighting that has claimed hundreds of lives.
Police said army and police reinforcements were moving into the ravaged Edenvale Valley in the southeastern province of Natal to halt virtual civil war between rival Zulu tribal factions.Police Maj. Piet Kitching said at least 55 people had been killed and hundreds injured in the area over the past week.
Military officials said combat units were being moved into Natal and other regions but declined to give numbers or other details. Police in Edendale said army troops would set up barricades and conduct patrols to stop the fighting.
More than 12,000 refugees, mainly women and children, had fled their homes in the Edendale area and were being sheltered at camps, police said. Rival mobs had burned hundreds of houses in the area, they said.
The growing unrest took a toll on South Africa's financial markets. The index on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange plunged 3.3 percent Monday. Dealers said clients were worried about the deteriorating political situation.
The pro-apartheid opposition Conservative Party, which opposes de Klerk's attempts to end apartheid and scrap white-minority rule, denounced his moves Tuesday. It said he was pushing the nation into "anarchy and chaos."
But reaction to the government moves was generally positive. The liberal opposition Democratic Party endorsed the deployment of the security forces to end the violence.
De Klerk told Parliament on Monday that he had ordered the security forces to launch a major drive to end unrest in black urban townships and rural areas such as Natal. He said the army had been ordered "to act immediately, firmly and purposefully" to end the unrest.
The security measures announced by de Klerk include stepped up arrests of suspected troublemakers, setting up of extra courts to handle unrest cases and involvement of army units in policing duties.
De Klerk also said he would introduce legislation to suspend prosecution against political activists accused of violent crimes. Black opposition groups have been demanding indemnity for nationalist guerrillas involved in violent attacks against the government.