Too Much of a Good Thing?

After decades of isolation, South Africans are flattered but overwhelmed by a new wave of visitors

THE high-flying visit of United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown Nov. 30 is just one example of the avalanche of imported political, cultural, and social stimuli South Africans are struggling to absorb after decades of isolation.

``The floodgates have really opened now,'' said one business executive at a dinner party in the northern suburbs this week. ``It's a real case of future shock.''

Having grown accustomed to the cultural isolation of apartheid, South Africans are reveling in the new flood of foreign visitors and electronic stimuli.

Patrons of a tiny jazz venue attached to the popular Market Theatre complex in downtown Johannesburg were astounded Nov. 24 to find Mick Hucknall, the revered lead singer of the hit soul group Simlpy Red, among the audience.

Two nights later they were even more enthralled to find Mr. Hucknall taking the microphone and singing to the backing of a local South African group.

Hucknall, who has vowed that he will be back by 1995 for a full tour of the country, was invited as a guest of a new talk show on the pay channel M-Net hosted by Dali Tambo, son of the late Oliver Tambo, who preceded Nelson Mandela as President of the African National Congress (ANC).

The British-educated Mr. Tambo, who wears flowing African robes and speaks impeccable King's English, travels abroad each week to interview a foreign celebrity and invites one to join his popular show, Night Moves.

Over the weekend, television viewers were treated to stars like Grace Jones, Jacqueline Bisset, and Pierce Brosnan, who were among the judges in the Miss World pageant at the gambling and entertainment complex Sun City, only two hours' drive from here. To cap the evening, South Africa's own Jacqui Mofokeng, the first black Miss South Africa, was the first runner-up to the new Miss World, Jamaica's Lisa Hanna.

In two weeks, rock-and-roll legend Elton John will be performing four open-air concerts at the Lost City, an extravagant addition to the Sun City complex.

The recent lifting of the decades-old ban by the British actors' union Equity has released a new battery of British television shows, which were denied to South Africa viewers, raised on American soap operas.

Last month, Britain's Sky television news joined CNN news, introduced three years ago, and the BBC World Service as new choices for South African news viewers. The Sky service also accesses the CBS evening news and ABC Nightline - all this for a country used to a highly sanitized diet of world news.

On the political front, the proliferation of new faces and influences is no less staggering.

With the new faces, come new ideas.

As Secretary Brown put it at a media briefing this week: ``Trade between the US and South Africa will ensure not just an exchange of goods and services, but an exchange of ideals as well. Prosperity is the ultimate peacemaker,'' he added - not necessarily music to the ears of aspirant socialists in the ANC alliance.

Heads of State and Foreign Ministers of European Countries, who once would have demanded front-page coverage in South African newspapers, come and go almost unnoticed. In the past 18 months, 25 new foreign missions have opened in Pretoria and 20 more are expected to follow in the next six months.

No one raises an eyebrow when Foreign Minister Roelof ``Pik'' Botha announces that the Palestine Liberation Organization is welcome to open an office in the country.

``Even as a foreigner used to such choices, it's a bit overwhelming when it comes all at once like this,'' says a Western diplomat.

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