Many whites help blacks cope with a searing drought in South Africa

South Africa's devastating drought is yielding a crop of good Samaritans whose efforts are nibbling away at this country's racial prejudices. After months of seeing alarming pictures in the newspapers and on television of hungry or starving black children, South Africa's more affluent white community has begun to step forward with aid. Most of the assistance comes from businesses and institutions in the private sector and is financial.

But on a smaller scale, there are also individual efforts that have the added bonus of bringing closer human contact between whites and blacks - always a rare event in this racially compartmentalized society.

Cicely Broomhead is one white who has been galvanized by the drought. For 12 years she lived in South Africa with only the most superficial contact with the black community. She occasionally drove her maid home, or picked her up from nearby Soweto, South Africa's largest black township.

But six weeks ago, Mrs. Broomhead read an article on black children entitled ''Living in the veld and eating out of dustbins.'' She says, ''I couldn't sleep that night.''

The next morning she was on the phone looking for ways to help, and in a matter of days she had started a soup kitchen at an Anglican Church community center in Jabavu, Soweto.

She admits her effort was small and rather fumbling. She had no experience in community involvement. But it has yielded a rich mix of dividends for both whites and blacks.

The single soup kitchen, originally set up to operate one morning a week, has expanded to two other locations in Soweto, and beyond, into the township of Alexandra. The first soup kitchen is now operating four days a week.

The aim is to soon operate all the soup kitchens five days a week.

And Mrs. Broomhead is about to constitute ''SOUP'' - Serving Our Underprivileged People - into an official welfare organization. That means it will receive an official welfare number from the government, a step that is necessary for official donations.

But more important to Mrs. Broomhead, ''going official'' means the project will continue long after the drought subsides.

Jabavu echoes with the laughing and good-natured conversation of the pensioners and young children who have come for a cup of soybean soup and a piece of thick brown bread. About 100 show up, fewer than usual because of the severe cold weather.

These blacks are destitute. The pensioners don't have enough to feed themselves after paying rent. The children are a mix. Some come from a nearby school, and without the soup kitchen they would go through the school day on an empty stomach. Some of the children are the homeless waifs of Soweto, who after age 12 are turned out of the institutional foster homes.

Mrs. Broomhead recognizes the limits of welfare handouts. ''We've just gone one step at a time. We're treating the symptom, but this step is necessary right now,'' she says.

What has surprised Mrs. Broomhead most about her project is the rapid, unsolicited support she has received from both the white and black communities.

''I've been amazed at the response,'' she says. ''I haven't had to go out and ask for anything. People have come to me and offered to help.''

Some 60 white women and 20 black women have joined the soup-kitchen project. Two of the soup kitchens are now being run out of the homes of black women. Mrs. Broomhead would eventually like to see all the soup kitchens run by blacks themselves.

Many of the whites who have been eager to help Mrs. Broomhead have done so at a distance. They are afraid, or their husbands won't let them come into Soweto.

But there is also a fairly large group of women who have jumped right in. ''A lot of my friends had never been near Soweto,'' says Mrs. Broomhead. ''It's important for whites to come here and see what goes on.''

As whites, ''We tend to think of Soweto as being on the other side of the world, but it's not,'' she says. ''It's just up the road.''

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