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Pretoria gets the upper hand. THE struggle between the white-controlled government of South Africa and its radical black foes unfolded on at least five fronts last week. There were battles in the schools, the workplace, the courts, and the economy -- as well as the more familiar armed showdowns.

By Patrick LaurenceSpecial to the Christian Science Monitor / July 21, 1986


The multi-dimensional nature of the struggle in South Africa between the white-controlled state and its radical black foes has been etched into contemporary history by last week's events. The struggle unfolded on at least five different terrains: educational, military, industrial, economic, and legal. The state appeared, for the most part, to have gained the initiative -- although the campaign is far from over.

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On the educational front, the government chose the start of the new term on July 14 for a showdown with young black activists who have used school premises to mobilize young blacks for the fight for majority rule in South Africa. It laid down a series of regulations under the state of emergency. These are designed to isolate schools from the political ferment around them.

The most important of these made it compulsory for all returning students to re-register, for all students to carry identity tags, and for entry into and exit from schools to be controlled by specially trained security guards.

The Department of Education and Training, which is responsible for black education outside South Africa's 10 ``black homelands,'' claimed victory. It reported that an average 8 out of 10 pupils had returned to school and that they had accepted that the new rules were for their own safety. But the department's figures included primary school enrolment and to that extent masked the situation in the 300-odd secondary schools under its control. There are 1.4 million primary school pupils to about 300,000 secondary school students, making a ratio of more than five to one.

Most black observers counseled caution in interpreting the 80 percent return reported by the department. The issue was not yet settled, as evidenced by the official admission that there were boycotts and resistance to registration at a third of the 62 black secondary schools in the Johannesburg educational circuit.

On the military level, South African security forces reported a major success against armed guerrillas of the outlawed African National Congress July 10 and 11. In the space of 24 hours, the security forces intercepted two guerrilla units, killing six near South Africa's northern-western border with Botswana, and four near King William's Town in the eastern part of the Cape. Police casualities were minimal; only one policeman was wounded.

The security force success to some extent neutralized the spat of attacks by underground bombers against white-administered towns and cities. But an important rider has to be added: While the bombs did not need verification -- the havoc they wreaked was there for all to see -- the killing of ANC fighters could not be established independently.

White morale was further boosted with the unveiling in Pretoria of a secretly developed adaptation of South Africa's aging fleet of Mirage F3 fighter planes. Known as the Cheetah, the new plane is the work of the state-sponsored arms corporation. It is said to be more than a match for the Soviet MiG-23 deployed in neighboring Angola.

On the industrial level, the newly-formed Congress of South African Trade Unions -- the largest federation of trade unions in South African history -- challenged the white-dominated state. Cosatu, as the trade union congress is known, called on workers to embark on a ``day of action'' on July 14 in protest against the detention of trade union leaders. Of the 245 trade union leaders and officials known to be in detention, over 80 percent are from Cosatu.

But response to the call was generally meager. Two regions, northern Natal and the western Cape, opted out even before the start of scheduled industrial strikes. In South Africa's key industrial area, known as the PWV, more than three-quarters of the black work force turned out for work in factories organized by Cosatu. In factories not yet penetrated by Cosatu -- or under the control of rival unions -- turnout was even higher. There were few reports of in-plant go-slow strikes or sit-ins.