Stay-away spreads in South Africa

South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha, in a major policy speech, has dashed many hopes of major changes in South Africa's racial policies -- even as protests by Colored (mixed race) schoolchildren around the country are growing.

Mr. Botha, in a tough-talking parliamentary speech April 29, outlined his vaunted "total strategy for South Africa's problems." Dr. Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert, leader of the parliamentary opposition, promptly labeled the speech a reaffirmation of the ruling National Party's policy of "separate development" of the races, more commonly known as apartheid.

Mr. Botha's speech came as Colored and Indian schoolchildren across the country are joining in school boycotts to protest unequal education in this racially divided country.

The Prime Minister warned that anyone trying to "push around" the South African government "behind the uniforms of schoolchildren" could get hurt. He warned that the state would use all means at its disposal against anyone who threatened its authority.

And even as he spoke, some schoolchildren in the Johannesburg suburb of Newlands were learning first-hand about the extent of state power here.

Police baton-charged a group of students gathered outside a high school and instituted mass arrests. Some 600 pupils were charged with violating the government's Riotous Assemblies Act by holding an illegal gathering.

Despite such tactics, reports from across the country suggest the school boycott is gathering momentum. Although mostly Colored and Indian children are involved so far, some black students reportedly are joining the stay-away.

Clearly, the government is trying to contain the protest. When a few black students gathered in the black township of Soweto to discuss the boycott, a blue pickup truck pulled up across the street. The vehicle, with a wire-mesh screen enclosing the rear section, is the type often used to transport arrested persons.

"The vultures are gathering," muttered one student to this reporter, and the group quickly dispersed.

In the nearby Colored township of Eldorado Park, however, students have not been deterred by the occasional presence of police in riot-control gear. They congregate near the Eldorado Park Secondary High School each morning, hold discussions among themselves, sometimes chant or sing in unison, then quietly disband at 11:00 a.m.

The students display a certain discipline, as they quietly continue their protest -- now in its second week. Few will talk to reporters, either because they blame the press for distorted reporting or suspect that security police may be posing as journalists in order to identify and arrest the student leadership.

Their complaints concern overcrowding, a limited curriculum, and shortage of textbooks. Their school, although renovated in the last few months, compares poorly with most white schools in the area. Its sports facilities are limited to one asphalt netball court (similar to basketball) and a few upright standards for nets.

Another complaint is the shortage of teachers. One teacher, with three years of college training, says he is paid about $700 monthly -- less than the salaries being offered by private employers for jobs requiring the same educational level.

Four big red-and-white signs at one end of the school building read, "Love, peace, togetherness, brotherhood." Others called for "Justice for All."

Yet Prime Minister Botha, in his parliamentary speech, made it clear he would not even sanction putting Coloreds back on the common voter's roll (which they shared with whites until 1956), let alone allowing the black majority here to vote.

He said that the Afrikaners, South Africa's predominant white ethnic group, "will fight to the last man rather than give up their right to self-determination."

Ironically, some blacks suggest Mr. Botha is hastening confrontation by his unbending stance.

"I am glad he said what he did," said one black man, "because now those who believed his talk about changes will know there will be no change. Now, no one will listen to those who say, 'Wait and give him a chance.'"

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