PAUL SIMON, who sparked a row by visiting here at the peak of the cultural boycott seven years ago, heralded the end of the country's cultural isolation last weekend with the blessing of major anti-apartheid groups.
About 75,000 fans - the crowd was multiracial but predominantly white - danced, waved, and sang their approval at two open-air concerts, which took place here under a heavy police guard.
A small demonstration by members of the Azanian Peoples Organization (Azapo) at the first concert drew little audience support and was not repeated at the poorly attended second concert.
"It's unfortunate that Azapo should have created the impression that they prevented blacks from attending the concerts," says David Kramer, a popular South African singer who is slated to perform at Mr. Simon's Cape Town concert Jan. 25.
"The truth is that blacks would not have attended in large numbers in the first place," he says. "If it had been Stevie Wonder, the audience would have been predominantly black."
Simon, whose 1986 cross-cultural "Graceland" album popularized the fusion of Western-centric pop music and African rhythm, is the biggest performer to have visited South Africa in a decade, and the first since the United Nations recommended the lifting of the decade-old cultural boycott in December.
"It is appropriate that Simon should have had the first chance," says Mr. Kramer. "Simon gave South African musicians a new sense of pride and showed them that they had something unique to contribute to the international music scene."
In concert, Simon moved effortlessly from the beat of the South African townships through samba rhythms and the jangle of Brazilian percussion to his own brand of melodic harmony in "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Sounds of Silence."
The controversy surrounding the tour served to draw closer the three major political groupings - the ruling National Party, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The protest - which included two Russian grenades being hurled at the sound company contracted for Simon's tour - caused a public outcry from all races and left Azapo and the Pan Africanist Congress isolated. There was minor damage and no one was injured in the blasts.
In an ironic twist, the radical ANC Youth League denounced the bombing of the offices of Simon's sound engineers soon after his arrival as "an act of desperation" that amounted to "ultra-left political terrorism."
The ANC, which once chided Simon for recording part of his album "Graceland" with black musicians in Johannesburg in 1984, welcomed the singer as one of its own. The album put the black South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the world map and boosted black musicians like guitarist Ray Phiri, saxophonist Barney Rachbane, and keyboardist Tony Cedras.
The recent murder of Headman Tshabalala, a member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and brother of the leader Joseph Tshabalala, was clearly a tragic event for Simon, and he spoke emotionally about the incident.
A white security guard faces charges of manslaughter and murder in connection with Mr. Tshabalala's death. The incident was unrelated to the controversy surrounding the tour. Part of the proceeds of the Durban concert will go to Tshabalala's family.
ANC President Nelson Mandela hosted a reception for Simon at Johannesburg's Carlton Hotel last Friday and urged black South Africans to attend the concert "in your thousands."
Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha issued a statement in support of the concert and attended Mr. Mandela's reception for Simon, along with actress Whoopi Goldberg and Communist Party chief Joe Slovo.
Simon was disturbed by threats from splinter anti-apartheid groups to disrupt the tour because they regarded the lifting of the boycott as premature.
"The impression I was under was that this was a minority viewpoint and the tour had overwhelming support," Simon said in an interview with state-run television after his arrival. Simon made it clear at a news conference that he was more than ready to forget the past.
"I appreciate the ANC's support for the tour and I believe that the rift between us is healed."
ANC officials insist that the cultural boycott made a major contribution to ending apartheid.
"The cultural boycott played an essential role in the struggle against apartheid," Nobel literature laureate Nadine Gordimer told the Monitor.
"We have a firm base now, and it is timely that the boycott should be lifted," said Ms. Gordimer, a member of the ANC and a senior official of the ANC-aligned Congress of South African Writers.
Last month the ANC endorsed the lifting of what it calls "people-to-people" sanctions and said it was no longer necessary to evaluate visiting artists.
"But they are expected to contribute something," said Gordimer. "We recommend they give some of their earnings and some of their time and skills."
Simon, whose tour management has predicted a loss of about $200,000 for the South African leg of the tour, agreed to contribute $40,000 to the ANC-aligned South African Musicians Alliance and to hold workshops with township musicians during his stay.
"Simon has broken the dam wall," said Ian Steadman, professor of drama at the liberal Witwatersrand University.
"It's been pretty painful, but I think it's been worth it," he said. "Now we should lift the gates and start trading ideas and skills."