Black community leaders from across South Africa decided Sunday not to resume school boycotts as a tactic in their campaign against apartheid and to adopt a broader strategy of mass action, using black consumer boycotts, rent strikes and possibly a general strike.
Although the boycott decision appeared to be a step back from confrontation with South Africa's white government, spokesmen for the National Education Crisis Committee described the overall plan as "an important escalation of the struggle against apartheid" by involving the whole black community, not just young people.
Nevertheless, the decision, reached in an all-night conference here by 1,500 parent, teacher and student delegates, should mean less violence. Many of the clashes over the 18 months have occurred between security forces and students who were out of school, boycotting classes to press their demands.
Ultimatum to Pretoria
At the end of 1985, such key South African black leaders as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Nthato Motlana of Soweto called for an end to boycotts and simultaneously gave the white South African government three months in which to make matching concessions or face heightened protests. A month later, tens of thousands of students returned to class.
Over those last three months, several members of President Pieter W. Botha's government worked with leaders of the National Education Crisis Committee to meet as many black demands as possible, and Botha's lifting of a state of emergency three weeks ago was due in part to the committee's pressure.
Not all of the demands were met, however, speakers at the conference noted. There are still government troops in the black townships; the major black student organization remains banned, and a number of students remain in police detention.
However, conference leaders denied that they have relented in their demands for sweeping political, economic and social changes extending far beyond the government's proposed reforms.
'Much Broader Front'
"We have definitely not backed down," the Rev. Molefe Tsele, a committee official, told reporters. "On the contrary, we will be engaging the government across a much broader front, and we will use strategy and tactics appropriate to this shift. What we have decided is really quite important for the future of the struggle."
The decision, he said, is intended to place the campaign against apartheid under more mature political leadership, to coordinate it on local and national levels and, using education and a variety of other issues, to strengthen black political organizations.
As an initial show of black political strength, the conference called for a three-day general strike starting June 16. That date is the 10th anniversary of student protests in Soweto, Johannesburg's black satellite city, that led to nationwide anti-government riots in which 575 people died.
The conference also urged community-wide support for the protests planned by black labor unions on May 1 and for increased use of rent strikes and consumer boycotts to bring action on local and regional issues.
The conference repeated opposition demands for the release of jailed black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners, for the return of exiles and for legalization of the African National Congress, the principal black guerrilla organization.
In other resolutions, the conference called for further international isolation of South Africa, including withdrawal of foreign investment from the country and the cancellation of South African Airways' landing rights around the world.
The conference attacked the Reagan Administration "as an accomplice" of apartheid and called on Americans "not to support the murderous policies of the Reagan Administration, particularly their attempts to destabilize the legitimate and popular government in Angola."
Conference speakers rejected the government's argument that blacks would suffer most from foreign divestiture of South African assets.
"Blacks can hardly be worse off than they are already," said Vusi Khanyile, secretary of the Soweto Parents Crisis Committee.
The prolonged education crisis, a unifying issue in the often divided black community, was the focus of the closed-door conference, which was also attended by representatives of national black organizations and labor unions. But its real significance lay in the adoption by what amounted to a national congress of the elected representatives of most of South Africa's 25 million blacks of an overall strategy and program to confront apartheid.
"The demands (made by a previous conference in late December) have not been adequately met," Khanyile said. "There has been only a partial response from the government."
Committee officials expressed confidence that black youths would heed the conference's call to return to classes when the new school term begins Wednesday.
Last year's slogan, "Liberation Before Education," has given way to "Education Towards Liberation," conference speakers said, and students now recognize that they gain politically by remaining in classes because the schools provide a better basis for organization than the streets.
Neither the conference nor its decisions have total black support, however, and the ideological divisions within black politics appear to have deepened over the weekend.
The conference denounced repeated attacks on delegates by members of Inkatha, a Zulu political group led by Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi. Participants declared in a resolution that "Inkatha is an enemy of the people and wholly in league with the Nationalist government" and declared its determination "to expose, isolate and fight against this fascist organization."
Members of the rival political movements fought a street battle Saturday after 80 Inkatha members attacked several hundred conference delegates while they were eating lunch. Two Inkatha members were killed in the clash.
The fighting forced the conference for security reasons to hold a single, all-night session in one of Durban's Indian suburbs rather than the two-day session originally planned at the University of Natal campus here.
Although Inkatha supports a more moderate line of negotiation with the government, the basis for the clashes seemed to be more one of political turf. Durban is Inkatha's major urban stronghold.