Cape Town — South African blacks do not support the idea that disinvestment is the best way to make the government change its racial policies. If foreign investors were to starve the country of money for development, blacks believe they would be the first to go hungry.
Nor are the black workers revolutionary, Marxist, or specifically anti-white. But they clearly crave a decent home and basic rights. Because so many blacks lack these things, political steam is building up in their community which could have ominous consequences.
These are some of the findings of a survey of black workers in key industrial areas in South Africa. The survey, conducted by Prof. Lawrence Schlemmer, head of the Center for Applied Social Sciences at the University of Natal, was funded by the American State Department.
The survey comes at a time when pressure is growing on money managers in Britain and the United States to divest themselves of South African connections. Five states and at least 16 cities have passed legislation inhibiting or prohibiting investment in South Africa.
Not only the South African government is concerned with this. Some of its most vigorous opponents, including Helen Suzman, longtime civil-rights leader, and Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, leader of the predominantly Zulu Inkatha Movement, argue strongly against disinvestment on the grounds that the first to be hurt would be blacks. It is also argued that a prosperous economy and better jobs for blacks, far from buying off black aspirations, would actually accelerate political change.
The harsh economic climate, which features high inflation and considerable black unemployment, is reflected in the results of the survey. High among the black workers' grievances are rising living costs (55 percent), low wage levels (48 percent), unemployment (42 percent), and a chronic shortage of adequate housing (30 percent).
When asked if life was ''improving,'' ''staying the same,'' or ''getting worse,'' 60 percent said it was getting worse.
On the issue of foreign investment, the question was: Should overseas people, banks, and companies:
* Stop buying South African goods and stop sending money to build factories in South Africa so as to frighten the government into abandoning apartheid?
* Or should they continue to buy South African goods and send money to build factories because these activities make jobs for all people in South Africa?
Seventy-five percent supported the second option.