South African school boycott ends
Johannesburg — Colored (mixed race) students in South Africa are heading back to school after suspending a three-month- long boycott of classes. It remains to be seen whether South Africa's most sustained period of unrest in four years is over, however. African students in some parts of the country are continuing to stay away from classes and occasional outbreaks of violence have been reported.
But no matter what happens in the future, the boycott has already left an indelible mark on South Africa's Colored community.
"Things will not be the same after the boycott," one Colored man from Cape Town told the Monitor.
"It's taught us about the power -- the power we have if we stand together."
The boycott was halted by the same group that has been masterminding it for the past three months -- the Cape Town-based Committee of 81, a deliberately anonymous group of students and community activists from the Colored townships of the western Cape Province.
But the group stressed that the boycott might be revived if the government failed to respond to the students' demands.These included the provision of textbooks for all schools, repair of dilapidated school buildings, establishment of independent student representative councils at each institution, and the release of students detained by the government.
The government welcomed the suspension of the boycott. Marais Steyn, Minister of Colored Relations, said some of the students' demands had already been met, and promised to work toward "equal education for all in South Africa as soon as we can manage it."
The boycott was significant for a number of reasons. For one, it exposed the degree of alienation among so- called Colored people here. Although the Coloreds share the culture and language of the ruling Afrikaners, they have increasingly identified with this country's black majority.
The boycott also showed a hitherto unknown degree of discipline and cohesiveness among Colored youth, a discipline that allowed the boycott to continue despite numerous attempts by the South African government to isolate and arrest the leadership.
Moreover, the South African government was thrown off balance by the protest, and alternated between blustering threats to use force and ineffectual entreaties to return to classes.
Clearly, the South African government will now be held to its promise to correct educational inequalities in this racially segregated country.
"The government must not be complacent," warned Dr. Alexander Boraine, a white opposition parliamentarian whose son was arrested as the boycott spread to university campuses.
Indeed, the black University of Fort Hare is still being affected by the stay-away, and police are reportedly patrolling the campus.
And in the eastern Cape Province black students are continuing a stay-away from classes. Isolated outbreaks of violence have occurred in black townships in the region. Buses passing squalid squatters' shacks in the Missionvale township outside Port Elizabeth were stoned July 16 and police bird birdshot to disperse a crowd estimated at around 200.