VOSLOORUS, SOUTH AFRICA, AUG. 25 -- Thousands of South African police and troops cordoned off this black township and others like it in the Johannesburg region before dawn today and began a search of all residences, disarming their inhabitants of huge quantities of weapons used in the internecine warfare of the past two weeks in which more than 500 people have been killed.
The massive search-and-disarm operation was launched hours after the government declared a limited state of emergency Friday in 19 magisterial districts containing 27 strife-torn black townships.
It also coincided with a general decline in the level of violence, which began tailing off Thursday. Police reported no clashes in any of the troubled areas today.
Police said most of the weapons found were in the large, barracks-like hostels where migrant workers, mostly Zulu tribesmen from Natal province, live.
This tended to support allegations made by many township residents during the fighting that Zulu supporters of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha Movement, who are concentrated in the hostels, were the prime aggressors.
Anyone entering or leaving Vosloorus today, a township about 20 miles southeast of Johannesburg where some of the most severe fighting occurred, had to pass through a police cordon and be searched for arms.
The township was crowded with heavily armed police and troops patrolling the streets and sealing off hostels and houses while searchers went through them. Ratel armored cars with heavy machine guns were parked on every major street.
At the bustling police station in the center of the township, Maj. Mike Lombard, a liaison officer, showed reporters a seven-ton truck piled high with spears, battle-axes, machetes and daggers, many of which appeared to have been crudely welded and honed in workshops. There were also hundreds of heavy, knotted clubs called knobkerries. One near the top of the pile was stained with blood.
"We found them everywhere, under beds, in lockers, even hidden in the ceiling," Lombard said of the weapons. Until Friday, the knobkerries were legal for Zulus to carry because the government regarded them as part their "traditional culture."
Two bodies also were found during the search, apparently of people who had been dragged into migrant hostels last night and killed, the major said. One had been stabbed and his body burned, and the other shot, Lombard said.
Similar weapons searches were carried out today in neighboring Kathlehong and Thokoza townships, and in Kagiso, a township west of Johannesburg. Lombard said the operation would continue in all 27 townships in the proclaimed "unrest areas."
Unlike previous large-scale police operations in the townships, this time the inhabitants seemed to welcome the presence of the security forces. For the moment at least, relations appeared good. Several residents said they were glad to see the hostel-dwellers disarmed at last.
"Why didn't they do this days ago?" asked one man waiting in line with police in a grocery store. "Perhaps now we can have peace again."