Black schools in S. Africa face new tests

Black schools in South Africa opened for the 1985 school year Jan. 9 with many of the problems that led to boycotts last year unresolved. But last year's crisis in the black schools appears to have brought black youth and their parents closer together and generated some optimism that their united effort will wring some solutions from the government.

As a result of this more optimistic outlook, black students for the most part have decided to return to the classroom -- at least temporarily. One apparent exception is Port Elizabeth, where some blacks continue to boycott.

The Congress of South African Students (COSAS) urged black students in the Transvaal Province -- where boycotts were most severe last year -- to return to school. COSAS was the main student body urging boycotts in 1984.

The Azanian Students Movement (AZASM), a rival black student organization to COSAS, has also declined to call for a new school boycott in 1985.

Both COSAS and AZASM are part of an unusual coalition of black youth and black parents that has emerged from the chaotic situation that prevailed in the black schools last year. COSAS and AZASM have endorsed the efforts of a new parents' national coordinating committee, which has a broad base of black support and plans to present the government soon with a uniform set of grievances.

Black students last year began demanding that they be allowed to establish Student Representative Councils in the schools. Analysts saw this demand stemming from black frustration with the inferior, segregated black education system, that is perceived by many blacks as a tool of oppression. (The government says it is dedicated to separate but equal education for black and white.)

However legitimate the cry by blacks for greater control over their schools, the student demands for representative councils were vague and varied from one school to the next. After much violence and disruption, the government agreed to the concept of the councils for blacks.

But as black schools closed in November, students were rejecting the form of councils the government was offering.

However there were other encouraging developments within the black community. In a number of black communities parents began forming committees to try to avert further upheavals in the schools this year.

``We came together because the students said no one was listening to them,'' says Isaac Mogase. He is vice chairman of the Soweto Parents' Committee, which formed last November.

Last month the Soweto Parents' Committee met with 17 other parents committees from all over South Africa. Student groups were also represented. The Parents' National Coordinating Committee was formed and it adopted a constitution for black representative councils.

Once this council model constitution is ratified in the black communities the Parents' National Coordinating Committee will present it to the government.

Mr. Mogase says the government has indicated it will consider seriously a proposed Student Representative Council Constitution that has broad black support.

The council now envisaged by the Parents' National Coordinating Committee would allow blacks to elect their own leaders (perhaps including parents) which if chosen democratically could not be overturned by the school principal.

The councils would not be obliged to show the school principal the minutes of its meetings. Grievances would be taken to the principal. Still to be worked out is what course the councils would follow if principals did not address their grievances.

While the efforts to establish the councils moves forward, most black students seem willing to remain in school. But as one COSAS official said: ``We are not saying we will got to school for the whole year.''

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