For several decades now, the incredible brutality and violence of South Africa have been on the minds of people the world over. It took the skill and persistence of Sir Richard Attenborough to bring "Cry Freedom" to American movie houses. Saying he felt compelled to make the film, the director of "Gandhi" has now turned his camera on apartheid, and the result is powerful.

But as deeply stirring as the story based on the friendship between white South African newspaper editor Donald Woods and black activist Stephen Biko is, as horrifying as the South African authorities' animalistic relish of violence is, I left the theater feeling a fresh pain.

After detailing Steve Biko's murder in horrific circumstances in a detention camp, the film concentrates almost entirely on Woods' escape from South Africa.

Woods' bravery in supporting Biko's black consciousness movement and his subsequent efforts to tell Biko's story to the world make a good story. It's interesting to see how Woods, who thinks he is a liberal, finds out the difference between what he thought he was and what the word really means. It's also important that he, at least to some degree, learns of the reality of life in the black townships of his homeland.

Yet my pain was for the film about Biko that is still to be made. The power of Attenborough's film gave me a taste of what a film about Biko would really be like and I'm hungry to see portrayed on screen more of Biko, Nelson Mandela and more of the other activists of the ANC. Indeed, I would like to see a director of Attenborough's character and honesty turned full blast on the reality of what the black freedom fighters in South Africa have to deal with each and every day, and the tremendous courage of others, known and unknown, to the industrialized white world.

Still, the film serves to remind us of the reality of South Africa today. One of its most powerful scenes is a brief flashback to the l976 Soweto uprising, for example, in which schoolchildren revolted over the issue of being forced to study only Afrikaans, the oppressor's language, in their schools. In that horrifying incident, police gunned down 700 children and detained and tortured thousands.

Yet nothing has been done to stop the murdering and detention of children. Visiting in town last week, Sheena Duncan of Black Sash, a women's social service agency in South Africa, said the violence continues unabated, estimating that 8,000 children are in detention and many who have been released desperately need psychiatric hospitalization.

Indeed, the brutality of 1977 -- on which "Cry Freedom" ended -- has scarred the generation of children that has grown up since Biko died. "I've seen really small kids, 6, 7 years old killed . . . thousands of 10- and 12-year-olds detained and tortured," Allister Sparks, the former editor of the apartheid- fighting Rand Daily Mail, which was shut down by the government in 1985, said recently.

"There is a brutalizing process that has gone on {since the 1976 Soweto uprising} . . . . Now there's a generation . . . that doesn't care whether they're killed. I call them the Khmer Rouge generation . . . the Pol Pot manifestation. It is a monstrous problem, a psychiatric problem of the government's own creation that it is now using as a propaganda instrument."

The overriding fact is that while the world has known about the brutality of apartheid for decades, nothing has been done to end it. Nothing has even been done about the fact that the government has banned international news media from bringing South African news to us.

It's too bad that the good guys don't have $2.5 million to counteract the $2.5 million the South African government spent in helping produce "Shaka Zulu," which found its way onto network television last week without its financing being revealed.

While many film makers, especially black film makers, have dealt with subjects other than the fluff alleged to be desired by the American public, too many stories like Biko's remain untold. I hope the critical and commercial success of Attenborough's film enables black film makers to get the money that has been denied them. But whatever happens, Attenborough's film is an impressive start, and because of his name and previous commercial successes, a tiny window has been opened for the moviegoing public to see the terrible reality lived by blacks in South Africa every day.