White schools in South Africa admit blacks for first time in years

January 10, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG,SOUTH AFRICA — JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- South Africa ended decades of total segregation in public schools yesterday when dozens of white schools opened their doors for the first time to black children.

It was the latest step in South Africa's movement away from the apartheid system that began in 1948, when the National Party came to power.

"I'm so excited. It's a miracle to me," said Martha Kekane, a domestic worker who brought her 6-year-old daughter to begin classes at Saxonwold Primary School in a wealthy, leafy section of Johannesburg.

Mrs. Kekane and other black parents said the newly integrated schools offered their children a chance to get a decent education without incurring the costs of expensive private schools, which most black families cannot afford.

Some parents also said they were glad to take their children out of troubled black schools, where overcrowding, underfunding, political turmoil and violence combined to make education impossible.

Qedusizi Buthelezi, who teaches linguistics at the University of Witwatersrand, said she was determined to get her 12-year-old daughter, Ntombifuthi, out of her black school in the township of Soweto.

She said she went shopping for an integrated school as soon as the opportunity arose because "I decided she wouldn't suffer anymore. . . . With all the disruptions and boycotts, she had minimal schooling last year."

Across South Africa, 205 previously white schools will open their doors to black students this year under guidelines approved by the government last year. Thirty-three of the schools, including Saxonwold, are in the province of Transvaal, where classes began yesterday amid excitement and controversy.

The newly integrated schools represent one-tenth of South Africa's government-funded white schools, all of which were given the option of voting to admit children of other races. Under the regulations, 72 percent of the white parents must vote for integration in order for the new policy to take effect.

Black political organizations such as the African National Congress have criticized the policy, saying it leaves the decision in the hands of white parents.

The ANC called Tuesday for a unitary school system where children are admitted to schools without regard to race.

Niels Frylinck, principal at Saxonwold, said 32 black children enrolled at his school, about 15 percent of the total enrollment.

He said the school decided to limit the black pupils to 25 percent in deference to the fears of some white parents that the school's standards would decline with the admission of large numbers of blacks.

"The white community does have fears, and these fears had to be addressed," said Mr. Frylinck. "It was a moral principle that we should have an admissions policy that was not dependent on color but nonetheless would ensure that the character of the school would be maintained."

The partial integration of schools began two days after the government announced test results showing that almost 64 percent of black children had failed their high school graduation exams. Education officials said political turmoil had caused black pupils to lose much of the school year.

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