JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Attempting to break a prolonged school boycott by black students, the South African government warned Wednesday that it will not reopen 40 black schools in the Port Elizabeth area in January without firm commitments by the students to attend classes.
Sam de Beer, the deputy minister for black education, said that months of negotiations with parents and clergymen had failed to end the student boycott. He said classes have been disrupted at the schools for most of the year, making teaching impossible, and that attendance has dropped to zero.
The government decided as a result not to reopen 40 junior and senior high schools around Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage, two industrial centers in eastern Cape province, at the start of the school year in January. As many as 40,000 black teen-agers could be affected.
"Before these schools restart," De Beer said, "it will be necessary for pupils to prove their willingness to return to school . . . and for individual parents to display their cooperation by accepting responsibility for their children's behavior and discipline. School buildings and teachers shall only be made available if meaningful education can be reinstituted in the schools."
School System Protested
Hundreds of thousands of black students have continued to boycott classes to protest a school system they say perpetuates white supremacy by giving them an inferior education. The boycotts have been a major factor in civil unrest over the last two years, at times involving more than 300,000 of the 1.8 million urban black students.
The students are also demanding removal of security forces from school premises and the release of pupils and teachers held without charge under South Africa's five-month-old state of emergency.
The government had earlier closed 33 schools around Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth because of poor attendance and frequent disruption of classes. Whether they will reopen in January is doubtful. More school closures are possible in these areas and around East London, another eastern Cape industrial center, according to government officials.
100,000 Dropped Out
About 100,000 youths, among them about 15% of the students at black high schools, dropped out of school in July, failing to re-register for class as required under the state of emergency.
Taken together, these developments mean that as many as 175,000 black youths, about 20% of the student body at urban junior and senior high schools, will not finish their education, giving rise to fears in the black community of a "lost generation."
"If these kids are not going to come to class, and their parents cannot get them to end these boycotts," a spokesman for the Department of Education and Training commented, "then it is a waste of very scarce resources to keep the schools open and teachers sitting in empty classrooms when we can use those teachers and those operating funds elsewhere."
Department spokesmen also noted that the closed schools constitute only a fraction of the 7,366 black schools in urban areas around the country. Classes have proceeded normally in most other areas over the past four months, the spokesmen said, and students are now writing their year-end examinations there.