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Many Blacks Shun Classes in S. Africa

July 15, 1986|MICHAEL PARKS | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Although black schools opened Monday for the first time since South Africa declared a nationwide state of emergency, many of the older students, who have been the most active in past anti-government protests, did not return to class.

About 80% of the 1.7 million black students, according to government spokesmen, did re-register for classes under tough new regulations intended to eliminate activists from the country's 7,000 urban black schools and to enforce strict no-politics rules throughout the education system.

"The atmosphere at the majority of schools is orderly and calm," a spokesman for the Department of Education and Training said in Pretoria, the capital, claiming a significant victory for the government in its effort to halt the country's continuing civil unrest. "Pupils and teachers have reacted favorably to the introduction of security measures. Senior students are anxious to resume their studies."

Hopes in the Balance

Most of those who did not return are high school students whose presence on the streets rather than in the classrooms could bring frequent and serious clashes with the police in coming weeks if they are not re-enrolled. This puts in the balance the government's hopes of a gradual return to law and order and an end to the strife in which more than 2,000 have died over the past two years.

Many high schools in Soweto, the black satellite city outside Johannesburg, appeared empty Monday, and where there were students, tensions seemed high, though only a few minor incidents were reported.

In some ghetto townships around Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the older students' boycott was almost total, according to school officials, but normal attendance was reported in other areas.

340,000 Fail to Show Up

Nationwide, approximately 340,000 students did not show up at the end of their prolonged mid-year school holiday--many more than the number who participated in most previous school boycotts. However, the Department of Education and Training expressed confidence that more will return later in the week and that the new regulations will end the use of the schools as the main bases for anti-apartheid protests.

"Radical disruption of school has already done incalculable harm," state-run Radio South Africa said in a commentary reflecting government views. "Without an intensive and uninterrupted program of education, the country faces a future of exploding unemployment, unmanageable social and economic dislocations and chronic instability. . . . The time had come to act with determination to re-establish a normal environment for black pupils to get the schooling they must have."

Only limited observance was reported, meanwhile, of a national "day of action" called for Monday by black labor unions to protest the detentions without charge of an estimated 260 of their officials under the month-old state of emergency.

Blacks Stay Off the Job

In Port Elizabeth, long a stronghold of the outlawed African National Congress, most blacks either did not go to work or returned home if they did. General Motors Corp. had to close its factory for the day, and the city government shut down most municipal services. East London, another industrial center in eastern Cape province, was also hard hit.

Around Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Vaal River region south of here, an absentee rate of 13% was reported by the independent Labor Monitoring Group. At factories whose workers belong to affiliates of the 550,000-member Congress of South Africa Trade Unions, about a quarter of the black work force stayed away. Four coal mines and a small gold mine were also struck.

This is in contrast to the massive general strikes by 2 million blacks or more on May 1, the international labor day, and again on June 16, the 10th anniversary of the so-called Soweto uprising.

Many unions apparently chose to limit their protests to slowdowns, sit-downs and meetings at their factories rather than strikes that might have led to clashes with the police. Unions in the Cape Town area did not participate because of restrictions there on the union federation, and no protests were reported from Durban or Natal province.

Key Labor Leader Freed

The protests may have lost some of their impetus with the release at the end of last week of Elijah Barayi, president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and vice president of the National Union of Mineworkers, after two weeks in detention. Police have imposed severe restrictions on Barayi, including prohibitions on participation in public meetings, travel beyond his home on a mine site and interviews with the press, that make it all but impossible for him to function as a national union leader.

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