Pupils plunge 'town of the free' into race war

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THEY arrived in pick-ups, armed with sjamboks and guns: 300 white parents intent on teaching black pupils a lesson at the former whites- only, Vryburg high school.

Half a dozen young men - graduates of the Afrikaans school - formed the vanguard, backed by angry Boer farmers from the backwaters of north- west province, stomping ground of the white supremacist AWB movement. "The white men sjamboked every black they saw," said one black teenager later. Some children were so badly beaten they were hospitalised.

The assaults came on Tuesday after Vryburg's head teacher, and two members of the white-dominated school board, were allegedly taken hostage by five black pupils who had been suspended from school.

Four days of rioting and petrol-bombing in Vryburg town centre and Huhudi, its adjoining black township, followed. Yesterday the streets were still being patrolled by soldiers and policemen, drafted in after Hoffman Galeng, Vryburg's first black mayor, accused local police of participating in the assaults.

Some of the new South Africa's most vicious power struggles are taking place in the sticks, where the sjambok-wielding white baas was once king and blacks are now hammering on the baas's castle doors. In Vryberg - "town of the free" - there is no whiff of the "Rainbow nation".

It is two years since the high school was forced by law to admit black pupils. At break-times blacks and whites still sit at opposite ends of the playground. "We do not mix," said the head boy, Brendan Gous, 18. "We don't want to mix with them and they don't want to mix with us."

He said the school reflects the wider community. "On the streets [of Vryburg] you never see a white walking with a black. Black pupils have been sent here to disrupt," he said.

He will not say who sent them, but parents and teachers clearly believe Mayor Galeng - "a racist who hates all whites", according to one parent leader - is puppet master.

The head girl, Martelie Schoeman, 17, also has no desire to mix with blacks. She said Tuesday's gathering was "a statement" after months of disruption by black children demanding exemption from recent school fee increases. "This is our school and they want to make it a black school," she said. Like many of friends she has no sympathy with complaints about fees.

Apartheid is not confined to the playground. Black and white pupils are taught separately. Vryburg is determined to hold on to its Afrikaner identity and the black pupils, now a seventh of the 700-strong school roll, refuse to be taught in Afrikaans. They insist on English-medium lessons.

Five black teachers have been employed for English classes, but they cannot cover all subjects. That the black children miss out on science is the sorest point, as the old apartheid regime kept them out of the lab on the grounds they that were destined to be labourers.

Blacks are now boycotting the school.

In a break between riots and demonstrations, Calvin, 18, said the fee rises forced him to leave Vryburg High. "And they treated us badly," he added to nods from his friends. But Raymond, 19, said the fight is just beginning. "They have got to let us in, or it will be a fight to push them out of the school."

They have the support of an older generation robbed of opportunity. "We in Vryburg do not see the new South Africa," said businessman Winston Kekesi. "We just see racism, and the children are angry."