THE WORLD FROM... Johannesburg

For a moment, amid UN debates and Olympic Games, South African tears flow from joy instead of sorrow

SOUTH Africans, whose past response to the international community has been characterized by hostility, ignorance, or extreme dependence, are beginning to warm to becoming a part of the world again.

Two major events in the past few weeks have changed the way South Africans see the world.

The first was United Nations action to resolve the political stalemate, including Security Council debate on South Africa July 15, the visit to the country of UN special envoy Cyrus Vance, and the presence of the first UN monitors at a political protest during the two-day general strike Aug. 3-4. The second was South Africa's emotional return to the Olympic fold at Barcelona.

"Suddenly, you can see that South Africans are beginning to feel part of the world - rather than just spectators - and want to embrace its values as their own," says a Western diplomat.

In the past, the UN - and the huge anti-apartheid industry that grew around it - was regarded by many white South Africans as the epitome of a hostile world, and, to most black South Africans, as their potential savior.

But all this has changed in a matter of six weeks - since the breakdown of negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) in mid-May and the further political polarization which followed the Boipatong massacre of June 17.

Now, President Frederik de Klerk and African National Congress President Nelson Mandela are involved in a propaganda campaign to claim credit for Security Council Resolution 765 and to put their own gloss on what it actually means.

Letter writers and callers to radio talk shows have discovered a new enthusiasm for international observers, and a popular radio station, Radio 702, ran a call-in service during the work strike for listeners to pass on information to the 10 UN observers.

The extended Security Council debate was carried live on South African television and appeared to have a cathartic effect on most South Africans. Suddenly, the world cared.

Perhaps more so than other nations, South Africa's view of the world has been molded by the world's reaction to it - and, in particular, to the apartheid policy of the minority of Dutch-descended Afrikaners who have ruled for the past four decades.

The local media, like the consciousness of the nation itself, is so preoccupied with the daily crisis of existence - and brooding insecurity about the future - that serious coverage of world news tends to be limited to cataclysmic events like the Gulf War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the civil war in Yugoslavia.

For the past two weeks, South Africans of all colors have reveled in the spectacle of their athletes at Barcelona.

The fact that the country's athletes have faired poorly has been secondary to the powerful symbolism of the country's acceptance into the international fold.

"Like millions of other South Africans I was glued to my TV screen on Saturday night [July 24], enraptured by the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games," wrote outspoken black columnist Thami Mazwai in the financial journal Finance Week.

"A tear trickled down my cheek when I saw our boys and girls march past," wrote the columnist, who two weeks earlier had argued that blacks should comprise the bulk of the South African team - regardless of merit - for reasons of political expedience.

"In those moments, I forgot the violence in our townships, the mass action, the CODESA deadlock, the sabre-rattling from all corners of our political spectrum, the failing economy...."

That is the power of the world helping South Africans to forget - even if momentarily - that they are isolated by their history.

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