Johannesburg — Black student unrest is still simmering in some parts of South Africa. The most serious disturbances are in the eastern portion of Cape Province, where a boycott of classes by black students flared briefly into violence.
Reports say that about 2,000 pupils in the city of Grahamstown went on a rampage, smashing school windows, tearing blackboards off walls, and stoning cars. Police used tear gas to disperse the students on July 9.
Meanwhile, the school boycott continues peacefully in other parts of the country -- although many schools apparently are unaffected.
In Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage -- cities that also have been hit by labor unrest in recent weeks -- the students are protesting inferior educational opportunities for nonwhites in South Africa. Students at a score of junior and senior high schools are staying away from classes.
In some black townships around Bloemfontein, capital of the conservative Orange Free State province, the boycott is reported to be almost total. Riot police, dressed in camouflage gear, have reportedly been deployed.
The recent protests are significant in that they involve mostly black students, who until now have largely ignored calls to join the boycott. Colored (mixed race) students in Cape Province, who started the boycott in May, are on school vacations until next week.
But so far Soweto -- South Africa's biggest black city -- has not been seriously affected. Officials say most schools are operating with only "normal" absentee levels. Pamphlets calling for a boycott were distributed this week in Soweto. They bore the name of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS), a black student group. But the boycott did not materialize. Some COSAS leaders have been detained by the South African security police, and some sources claim that has prevented effective organization by the students. But that tactic ultimately could backfire.
One prominent black man, who had helped the government deal with student unrest in Soweto in 1976, says, "Then, I . . . knew which students to get in touch with if I wanted to communicate with the student leadership. Now, I haven't the faintest idea who the leaders are."
That estrangement, he says, has led to fears that the next time widespread unrest hits Soweto's youth, it will be leaderless and therefore impossible to halt without a governmental show of force, and perhaps a loss of life.