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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pupils Enter Desegregated School

POTGIETERSRUS, South Africa -- President Nelson Mandela on Thursday appealed for calm as black children began attending a former whites-only South African school and white parents threatened to start a new whites-only institution.


At least 16 black children started their first day at the primary school in Potgietersrus, 250 kilometers north of Johannesburg, after a judge ruled Wednesday the school had no right to bar pupils from the country's black majority.


Mandela said he welcomed the court's decision to end racial segregation in the school, but he appealed at the same time for sensitivity in its implementation.


"We have got the court order and we can enforce it, but we are dealing with children and we don't want to exercise our rights in such a way that the lives of the children are in jeopardy," he said. "We are discussing this matter in a responsible and sensitive manner."


Angry right-wing parents told reporters they were keeping their children at home Thursday.


"Look at all this. It is police, the press, kaffirs [a derogatory term for blacks]. How can I put my children in this school under these circumstances?" said one white parent, who refused to be identified.


The black children were taken into the school by their parents watched by the police. At least 100 police blocked nearby intersections and patrolled the area around the school.


On Wednesday, Supreme Court Judge Tjibbe Spoelstra issued an order that the school could not appeal to a higher court against his decision last week that it "may not on the grounds of race, ethnic or social origin, culture, color or language, refuse to admit any child."


It is the first case where white attempts to preserve the status quo have been tested since 1994's all-race elections ended half a century of institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa.


Koos Nel, chairman of the management body, said: "My prediction is that about half of the [white] children will leave this school ... parents are thinking of establishing a private school ... for Afrikaners only," he said.


Nel added some parents were considering teaching their children at home. "Racism has nothing to do with this. It is a cultural issue," he said.


Mandela said he had asked Deputy President F.W. de Klerk, who is leaderof the National Party, General Constand Viljoen who heads the white separatist Freedom Front and right-wing Conservative Party leader Ferdi Hartzenberg to help the Northern Province government ensure the court order was implemented "with the consent of the community."


Northern Province Premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi said he had been called by Mandela and had agreed to meet the white leaders.


"We are prepared as the government to talk to anybody including the white parents who are afraid ... We don't think that these fears are really, objectively speaking, founded," he said.


Parents said they feared the school would be flooded by black children.


"We feel that the character of the school will be changed if it is flooded by another culture. This school will be completely black in about one or two years," said a parent, Mof Erasmus.


One of the black pupils who began at the school Thursday said she was not frightened at all.


"No, I feel happy because I want to do sports, maths, English, all the subjects," said a smiling Thaba Chuoe, 10.


Asked if she was not afraid that white children might ostracize her, she replied: "No, they will want me to come here."