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FALLING IDOL

By Miriam Lacob, Special to The Christian Science MonitorThe writer, a South African, recently returned to New York from six weeks in South Africa. / November 4, 1983



The United States has long held a mystique for black South Africans: * Township slang echoes the jive talk of US ghettoes.

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* Among young black workers Bass and Florsheim are the most popular brands of shoes.

* Homemakers aspire to have American-style kitchens.

* Black American entertainers draw substantial black audiences on South African tours - even if their popularity is on the wane at home.

Seeking to escape the oppression of their lives as virtual second-class citizens, many black South Africans seem to model their popular culture and hopes for change on the experience of black Americans. The heroes of those American battles are their heroes, too.

At the height of the US civil rights movement, Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy received an ecstatic welcome as he traveled in a motorcade through Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg. And at the start of the Carter administration, United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young had the status of a folk hero.

Black South Africans looked to the US and saw progress in the black community and a beacon of hope for themselves. They believed that when a superpower stated its abhorrence of apartheid, change would come to their lives.

But today there is a growing group of politically aware black South Africans who have become disillusioned with the US. These blacks have seen American corporate investment in their country reach record levels - estimated in excess of $14.6 billion in leaked State Department correspondence in August - but note few structural changes in their own lives. They are cynical about American intentions in South Africa. In many cases, this cynicism is hardening into an angry anti-Americanism. This trend is aggravated by the Reagan administration's policy of ''constructive engagement'' with South Africa's white-minority government.

This developing black attitude was evident to this writer, a white South African, on a visit home 18 months ago when the effects of Reagan policy were just beginning to filter through South Africa. And it was evident on a more recent trip across the country.

Although the Reagan administration appears to be trying to improve its image - by contributing to relief efforts in drought-stricken areas and by admitting more black South Africans to study at US universities than previous administrations - the efforts do not seem to be producing results. The prevailing view among black South Africans is that the Reagan government is indifferent to their plight and is in effect collaborating with the ruling Nationalist government.

Several recent US actions have reinforced this view. Among them: A Cape Town newspaper last July published a photograph of Cooperation and Development Minister Piet Koornhof toasting US Ambassador Herman Nickel. Blacks took offense because Mr. Koornhof oversees the lives of blacks and is highly disliked by them. Blacks are also furious that the US has given qualified endorsement to Pretoria's plan to refashion the South African Constitution in a way that gives all racial groups except blacks a role in government.

In a referendum Wednesday, South Africa's white voters approved the plan by a wide margin. Black and Colored South Africans, opposing the constitution on grounds that will not change present power structures, formed a major opposition organization - the United Democratic Front - last August. Before the referendum, the UDF and many other black leaders attempted to convince white voters to oppose the plan.

Now the UDF, which represents about 400 community organizations, will probably try to discourage Coloreds (people of mixed racial descent) and Indians from taking part in the government bodies created under the new constitution. The front's first rally in August drew more than 7,000 people. The US, as well as the constitution, came in for heavy criticism at the rally.

''The United States government is only furthering its own economic interests in our country at the expense of the well-being of the people,'' states a resolution adopted by the group. ''This unashamed greed and callous support for this unpopular and undemocratic government by the United States cannot stop us in our march toward freedom,'' it continued.