Blacks lament bombing of school meant for them

July 16, 1991|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

PRETORIA, South Africa -- A distraught black couple stood on the sidewalk outside the Hillview High School yesterday, viewing the wreckage of a school earmarked for blacks but blown up by extremist whites.

"This is the work of the right wing. They said those children LTC would never be allowed at this school," said Rosalynn Matjokama. "If those bombs had gone off with the children inside, they would be dead."

As she spoke, her husband, Peter, clutched their 6-year-old son, Nkateko, whose name means "blessing" in the language of the Sotho tribe. "If you're a mother, you have to feel for those children," she said. "We really needed this school."

Hillview High, in Pretoria's busy downtown, was a sign of changing times in South Africa. Formerly a whites-only institution, it had sat vacant for 10 years until the government recently offered it to the African National Congress for the children of returning political exiles.

The government had planned to turn the school over to the ANC this week, but an explosion ripped through the school Sunday, causing severe structural damage and blowing out windows and walls.

"Here we had 400 primary school children coming back to be part of the new South Africa," said an ANC spokesman, Carl Niehaus, "and you've got this got this kind of response from people who want to continue to fight their racist war against defenseless children."

He said the ANC had hoped to enroll the children in school Aug. 15, "but obviously that plan will have to wait."

No one claimed responsibility for the bombing, but white extremists said the government's decision to give a white school to the ANC was "an act of provocation."

Right-wing leader Robert van Tonder issued a statement saying that white extremists "will not give up our land to other nations without a fight."

For black parents such as the Matjokamas the Hillview issue points to a much broader problem than the education of returning exiles. Black children throughout South Africa continue face the prospect of a desperately poor education, despite political changes such as the repeal of apartheid laws and the start of negotiations with the ANC.

According to the government's own studies, it spends an average of $1,429 on every white pupil but only $371 on each black child. There is one teacher for every 19 white children in South Africa, one for every 51 blacks.

The result can be seen in the high school pass rates: More than 90 percent of white students pass; only 28 percent of blacks passed last year.

"If you come to the location [black township] and look at our school, you'll see. There are not even doors or windows," said Mrs. Matjokama, who has seven children, four of them attending township schools.

"We don't have schools like this," she said, staring at the shattered Hillview school. "This is a waste. We really need these schools."

The Matjokamas send their three youngest children to a Roman Catholic school in Pretoria, but they say it is not easy on Mr. Matjokama's salary as an assistant manager in a furniture store.

They pay 4,000 rands ($1,500) in school fees, plus bus fare for the 20-mile ride from Soshangove township.

"The white kids stay here. They can just walk to school. Everything is just at hand for them," said Mr. Matjokama. "At Soshangove High School, they don't have anything. It's just not conducive to learning."

Mrs. Matjokamas said she had hoped that once the Hillview school was opened for the children of exiles, it might be possible for local black children to attend, too.

"I'm really sorry for this school," she said. "It's a nice school. This is just a waste."

Other, less patient blacks are planning to take matters into their own hands and take over white schools that sit empty while blacks crowd into township schools.

The National Education Crisis Committee, an anti-apartheid education group, announced last week that its members would occupy 50 abandoned white schools in the Johannesburg area.

The schools were closed by the government because of dwindling numbers of white students. Blacks were denied access to the schools because, until apartheid laws were scrapped last month, they were in areas designated for whites.

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