White S. Africans boycott newly integrated school Angry parents threaten to start new facility

February 23, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

POTGIETERSRUS, South Africa -- White parents threatened to start a new, whites-only school as 16 black children, in prim new uniforms, marched nervously past riot police and a fence topped with razor wire yesterday to desegregate a public primary school.

The Potgietersrus Primary School was nearly empty. Most of its 700 or so white students stayed home. Several parents angrily announced they were protesting the court-ordered integration of the school, while others said they feared bloodshed after weeks of rising tension and threats in this right-wing stronghold.

"Others call it racism," said Koos Nil, head of the school's ruling body of parents. "We call it culture."

Although Mr. Nil and other white parents insisted yesterday that they plan to move their children to private schools, several admitted privately that few such schools exist in the area and fees are far higher than the $15 monthly charge at this state-supported school. Government officials said the group would not be permitted to start a new whites-only school.

About 20 white pupils defied the walkout, however, and 11-year-old Robin Garner stood in the entrance hall to warmly welcome the first black students allowed to enroll since the school was built for white farmers' children 104 years ago.

"I'm glad they've come," she said excitedly. "They're exactly the same as us, and they need the education."

Her new black classmate, Thabang Chula, 10, firmly agreed. "They're going to teach us like they teach the other children," she said. "And they must treat us like they treat the other children."

About 100 armed police, backed by dogs and armored vehicles, sealed the street outside the school. One white father threw his daughter's bicycle toward reporters in anger, and several men milled about and glowered at the arriving black students, but no arrests or violence occurred.

The desegregation dispute erupted in public last month when militant white parents physically blocked Magiliweni Alson Matukane, a black engineer and senior official in the provincial government, and his three children from entering the school. Backed by the government, he sued and won.

"The battle isn't over," Mr. Matukane said yesterday after enrolling the three. "Attitudes still must change."

But peaceful resolution of the case, at least so far, is a victory for the government of President Nelson Mandela.

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