SOWETO, South Africa — Thousands of blacks stayed away from work and school Friday to mark the 13th anniversary of the Soweto township riots, in which police opened fire on black schoolchildren protesting education policies.
The riots brought a new level of militancy to the anti-apartheid movement, and the government does not recognize the June 16 Soweto Day holiday declared by blacks and recognized by most major employers.
The U.S. government observed the anniversary with a call for the release of imprisoned black leader Nelson R. Mandela. At the United Nations, the Security Council called on South Africa to eliminate apartheid.
An estimated 500 to 700 blacks were killed in months of nationwide riots that erupted after police fired on children marching in Soweto to protest being taught in Afrikaans, the language of the white Afrikaners who control the government.
Vandals Smash Tombstone
Vandals on Thursday smashed the tombstone of Hector Pieterson, a 13-year-old who was the first person killed June 16, 1976. Friends said Pieterson's mother found the smashed headstone at a cemetery in Soweto when she arrived to place flowers on the grave Friday.
"The event will remain forever etched in letters of stone and gold in the history of this land when the children said, 'Enough is enough,' " Anglican Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu told a church service in the black township of Manenberg near Cape Town.
Police used tear gas to disperse 3,000 people who attended a rally at the Regina Mundi Roman Catholic Church in Soweto, the black township of 2.5 million outside Johannesburg.
A group of blacks apparently attempting to enforce the work stayaway made a blockade of burning tires and fatally stabbed a black motorist in Guguletu, a township outside Cape Town, police said.
In Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, black commuter traffic was less than half the weekday average, according to various estimates. Bus stops, railway stations, and taxi stands were empty. Black schools nationwide were deserted.
The original goal of the marching schoolchildren has been achieved: They now can choose which language they are taught in. But other complaints about black education have not been addressed. The government recently abandoned its plan to make black and white education standards equal in 10 years, saying the booming population of black children and reduced government revenues makes it impossible. The government spends five times as much for every white child's schooling as it does for each black pupil.