South African shift on race, MORE REALISM, BUT LITTLE CHANGE FOR BLACKS
A treaty of ''nonaggression and good neighborliness'' with Mozambique. A ''joint monitoring'' agreement with Angola. Cuban-Angolan discussions about troop withdrawals. An offer to turn over administration of Namibia to five Western countries. Release of the long-imprisoned Namibian leader Herman Toivo ja Toivo. These events in 1984 constitute a rapid succession of fissures in the long-frozen southern African political glacier.Skip to next paragraph
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Do these unprecedented moves by the South African government in Pretoria and its Marxist-Leninist neighbors portend a breakup of the regional ice jam - a genuine political springtime for one of the world's most troubled spots.
Or is this just another false end of winter, likely to freeze again when it comes to the underlying issues of independence for Namibia and some form of civil rights for South Africa's 5-to-1 black majority?
As the world chancelleries ponder these questions of importance to international peace and security, some oblique illumination might be gleaned from impressions, deliberately subjective, gained recently during a first visit to the Republic of South Africa.
Johannesburg is cosmopolitan, Western, urban-upscale. A mile-high Toronto or Sydney, a Rome of hills crowded with high-rise apartment buildings. On Saturday night the gaily lit side streets with boutiques and unexpectedly nonpuritanical amusements could be in San Francisco.
The crowds are white, black, and soon-to-be semi-enfranchised Coloreds and Asians. Sunday the streets are empty of blacks, who are supposed to live elsewhere - perhaps Soweto - their families even further away in any of 10 tribal ''homelands'' to which the government has assigned them citizenship.
But here and there an illegal squatter's little aerie perches behind a fenced-over storefront, near a dazzling new glass building faceted like - what else? - a diamond. The hotels and universities are now said to be ''open.'' But somehow black faces at universities seem few and far between.
The world-class hotel restaurant is one place blacks appear in abundance, as waiters, busboys, even captains (but not maitre d's or sommeliers). Their manner conveys a subservience reminiscent of ancien regime Africa (or wartime Washington, D.C.). The smiles, however, are genuine. One senses that a less gentle and forbearing people would have overturned the racial status quo by now.
White clients seem startled when sleekly appareled Indians are ushered to the next table. A black attendant is publicly vilified by his white supervisor in a special tone of voice used in European colonial days (and also used by Americans seduced by that racial environment). A black foreign guest sits in lonely splendor at breakfast in the morning.
Cape Town: a setting of breathtaking beauty, with towering mountain walls of sheer granite framing blue water. Semitropical palms and flowering shrubs set off buildings, streets, mountain drives, and luxurious suburban homes in harmonious proportion. All in all, a city of phenomenal attractiveness, built in the 17th century by Dutch pioneers and fleeing Huguenots, later semi-dominated by the English.
On the fringe of Cape Town is a half square mile of bulldozed red earth punctuated by one small mosque and two lonely churches. This is District Six, whose Colored residents were evicted in 1966. It is still barren, the result of the Coloreds' quiet determination not to allow white gentrification on the ruins of their former homes.
But in general, the humiliating ''petty apartheid'' is much reduced in Cape Town. Gone are the signs segregating restrooms and other public facilities. Crowds mix in the shops, eating places, streets. Blacks attend the conferences, dinners, and garden parties. But they are black ambassadors or important officials and experts from the likes of Namibia or Transkei or Lesotha or Zimbabwe, and their inner tension is subtle but palpable.
Perhaps because Cape Town is the only city in which black workers are in a minority, the City Council is permissive. But the beaches are run by the provincial government and stay segregated.
Beyond the city, beyond the University of Cape Town campus perched like a rambling palace along the dramatic lower escarpment of Table Mountain, beyond the port and the elegant suburbs, is Crossroads. The black shantytown is under government decree to evacuate even farther out from city and work so that Coloreds can move in.
People wander aimlessly across sandy, treeless wastes of Crossroads like hungry cattle. On a back street one suddenly comes on a tiny schoolhouse whose dirty cinderblock exterior is graced with brightly painted frescoes, thanks to volunteer help from white Cape Town artists.
Older parts of Crossroads are more settled, and some houses along the unpaved roads boast cars in front and TV antennas on top. Some families classified as Colored, who enjoy labor preference in Cape Province, live in almost middle-class townships.