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Straddling Two Societies

The homeowners in Spruitview live between white and black worlds. SOUTH AFRICA

FROM a distance, Ezra and Veronica Hlubi's neighborhood resembles many small, modern communities in the United States heartland. A water tower rises 50 feet above rolling grassland; capital letters on the tower announce to visitors that they've arrived - in Spruitview. But the Hlubi family truly has arrived. They live in one of the first (and few) black suburban residential areas in South Africa.

Spruitview is almost equidistant from the crowded black township of Soweto and the whites-only suburbs of Johannesburg. For black South Africans it represents a rare opportunity - the chance to own property. South African law still forbids black ownership of land in areas designated for whites - about 87 percent of the country.

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A few blacks have moved into white neighborhoods, but only through a back-door process in which they must set up partnerships with whites who then, legally, own the property.

Spruitview is an exception. In 1985, after riots in Soweto, the white South African government passed a law bending apartheid land restrictions and allowing Spruitview to be created. The legislation gave a white law firm - Joel, Melamed & Hurwitz - the right to develop and sell property to blacks in an area previously reserved for whites. This 1985 act of Parliament allows up to 3,000 one-acre sites in Spruitview. The Hlubis rushed to buy land and build a home here in 1986 - 1,500 square feet of space on an acre of tranquillity.

``It's much quieter here,'' says 15-year-old Nokwazi Hlubi, ``the homes are bigger and you can own your own land, and do what you want with it ... you're not all squashed in like Soweto.''

Spruitview is populated by families like the Hlubis; blacks who have managed to do well despite rigid racial segregation and the repression of apartheid laws. Those statutes still bar blacks from even the less expensive white neighborhoods, where their money would buy more property and better homes.

Home sites in Spruitview cost as much as 25,000 rand (about $10,000). With construction costs the final price tag can top $60,000. Consequently, only 600 of the 3,000 home sites have been sold. ``The people who live here probably represent the top 1 percent of black income earners,'' says Rich Mkhondo, a Reuters reporter living in Spruitview.

Unlike many of their more prosperous neighbors, the Hlubis aren't always sure where the money will come from to pay the bills. Veronica Hlubi is a nurse, who works exhausting 16-hour days on two jobs. ``I need a rest too,'' she says, ``but there's nothing I can do. There are times when I'm so tired I want to cry ... but when I think of my kids, I carry on.''

LIKE their Spruitview neighborhood, the Hlubis live somewhere between the worlds of black and white South Africa. This provides a rare view into both societies - a vision that can be painful. ``I feel very hurt because now I can see what the black nation has been deprived of for decades,'' says Ezra Hlubi. Perhaps nowhere is apartheid's legacy more bitter than in the classroom where, for the last 12 years, Mr. Hlubi has spent his days teaching.

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Black schools still receive only one-fifth the money, per pupil, given to white schools. That translates into fewer facilities, less attention, and more frustration for dedicated teachers like Hlubi. ``What can you call a school without a library?'' he asks. Hlubi is a high school teacher and instructs his teenage students in everything from math to geography (without a globe). He has as many as 75 pupils per class.

Now Mr. Hlubi can afford to do better for his children by sending them to integrated private schools. He hesitates to abandon the black schools that he is a part of, but he's equally concerned that his children get the best start.

Eldest daughter Nokwazi attends St. Mary's School, an Anglican girls high school in Johannesburg. Substandard early training in Soweto schools made the adjustment difficult academically. Still, Nokwazi hasn't looked back.

``The standard is much higher here. You're also much freer to speak than in a black school. You don't have to share desks and there are better facilities.... - we never had a laboratory at my old school.''

There have also been social adjustments for Nokwazi, who now attends parties at her white classmates' homes. She's made several close friends - although none have come to visit her Spruitview home. Mrs. Hlubi looks at her daughter's integration with some suspicion.

``From 8 o'clock in the morning to 4 o'clock she is taking in a white culture, but I tell her not to lose her Zulu roots.'' Mrs. Hlubi also speaks, with hope, about true cross pollination between white and black South Africa. ``I tell Nokwazi that she is building a new South Africa which means that whites have got to inherit our black culture too.''

For Mr. Hlubi, moving to Spruitview was only the beginning of changes he hopes to see.``For all my children I want a free South Africa, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, the same freedom the white man is enjoying in my country.''

Mrs. Hlubi also wants more for her family. After years of study she is finally a nursing manager, supervising many whites who are not college educated. She remembers how a co-worker once boasted, ``My white skin is the only diploma I need.''

She views her family's success as fragile and expresses concern that the white minority will never cede privilege or share wealth. ``After enjoying so much luxury, who could really let you come down and say, `All right, I will share my plate of food with you.'? Is that possible?''

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