THE WORLD FROM...Johannesburg
White South Africans used to resent the world's attention, but now they are worried about being ignored
WHITE South Africans, who for decades resented the international community for focusing too much on their country and its system of apartheid, are filled with ambivalence about their fading presence in world consciousness.
Frequently angered in the past by how other nations tried to tell them what they must do, many South Africans are very concerned that, now that apartheid is on its way out, the international community does not seem to care about them.
While enjoying the benefits of once again participating in international sports and cultural events, South Africans are focusing more on the challenges of creating a new multiracial society than on working to eliminate the last vestiges of their ostracism from the global community. In the knowledge that there will soon be a more legitimate transitional government in which blacks will form the majority, South Africa's leaders seem content to defer the question of pushing for full international inclusion.
When reminded of those forums from which they are still excluded, South Africans often express irritation. For example, Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha, who often reflects the emotions and aspirations of white South Africans, was asked at a briefing of foreign journalists recently about the country's chances of regaining its seat in the United Nations General Assembly this September.
"I don't know," he responded. "I'm not so much concerned about it - that is why I don't know. It is not really an issue - that is the point I want to make."
Mr. Botha said that it would not be wise to make an issue of South Africa's credentials at this "sensitive stage of history."
"So far as I'm concerned, let sleeping dogs lie."
After years of resisting outside involvement, whites have become used to the sight of UN and international monitors. They are delighted with visiting international sports teams and the now familiar sight on their television screens of South Africans competing abroad. Pakistan and the West Indies cricket teams are currently drawing large, mainly white crowds around the country.
They also like the feeling of creeping normality and being increasingly judged for what they are and what they do rather than for their association with apartheid.
Many are dismayed, however, by suggestions that South Africa no longer demands the international news coverage that it did in the heyday of apartheid and the period of black resistance against white rule. Botha, for example, has been a leading advocate of a growing lobby pressing for South Africa to be the leading partner in a regional economic grouping to counter the growing international trend toward marginalization of Africa.
In a recent exchange, television talk show host Frederik van Zyl Slabbert asked three foreign correspondents whether South Africa still featured high on the agendas of their editors in Britain and the United States. The journalists replied that the protracted and complex nature of negotiations, the repetitive nature of the political violence, and the waning issue of apartheid had moved the story down on the international agenda.
Charlotte Bauer, an ascerbic television critic in the liberal Weekly Mail, took up this theme:
"In helping Slabbert establish the importance - or lack of it - of this country as it appears on the bill of the media roadshow, one thing became clear: The sequins on the South African costume drama just don't dazzle like they used to.
"And if the press at large, and the foreign press in particular, seem supremely cynical about this, they are only as fickle in their interests as those who read them."