Police pushed back about 200 residents of Ruyterwacht, a working-class suburb north of Cape Town, who tried to stop black students from the Khayelitsha township attending a neighbourhood school.
Police formed a line to push back the protesters as buses carrying more than 3,000 students aged 13 to 25 arrived.
Protesters and students exchanged jeers and racial taunts,but there were no clashes as students were escorted by the police into the compound. "Go away you kaffirs," one of the whites shouted as the children moved into the school, closed several years ago when white pupil numbers dwindled.
"This school belongs to the community, we want the blacks out [of] here. I am going to kill you," one white man shouted at a representative of the African National Congress. At one point, two protesters began chasing a journalist and a police officer fired a warning shot, prompting some students to throw sticks and rocks over the fence.
Later in the day a student died in hospital after being taken from the school compound. The wound was believed to have come from a fight in the school with another student.
"We feel angry because they are delaying our school progress while their children are in school," Linda Magadla, 17, said of the protesters.
But the demonstrators complained that students had been roaming in the neighbourhood, vandalising property and smoking marijuana. "This is not racist," Leon de la Fonteyn, a resident, said. "I have no problem if they come here in a decent manner, but 350 of them, not 3,000."
The government began letting limited numbers of blacks into traditionally white schools in 1988, but the final vestiges of classroom apartheid were only lifted last month. Black pupils have taken over empty buildings in white areas, but have yet to be allocated teachers, equipment or furniture.
The right-wing Freedom Front said the whites' actions should be a clear message of a potentially explosive situation in education.