Standing quietly in the yard, the African workers gazed in through the living-room window at the net television set in the foreman's house, where the white farmer's wife obligingly swept the curtains back for two hours each night.

This nightly scene began on a large farm in the eastern Cape Province a year ago, when the government finally permitted television here. It stopped abruptly in August after, as the foreman's wife said in a trembling voice to a friend. "Soweto came to the farm."

Sheds on this and other white-owned farms in the region went up in flames that night. Convinced that African farmhands had been inspired to arson by a television film of the black uprisings in urban housing compounds the foreman's wife canceled the open-air showings.

Racial violence and the shadow of black power are heightening a climate of white uncertainty and fear unprecedented in modern South Africa. A tiny trickle of money and people has started dribbing out of the affluent, comfortable ruling white community to other countries.

This reaction - significant enough to have been denounced in recent speeches by the prime minister and defense minister - is seen as alarmist by many of those determined to stay on. But they, too, admit that their lives have been touched by the seven months of intermittent but bloody confrontations sparked by black political demands.

"You don't organize your life around fear," said a widely traveled white South African businessman. "But we are beginning to get a taste of what life is like in Israel. You are much more careful."

The signs of this mood are written across the face of all of white South Africa's age and income groups.

Gunshops continue to be besieged by white customers. They do not sell to blacks, against whom the government has mounted one of the world's most effective gun-control campaigns. One recent Saturday morning, a 12-year-old white youth stood at the head of a long line in one Johannesburg shop trying cut a .32 caliber revolver while his father looked on approvingly.

In an exclusive northern suburb of Johannesburg, buckets of sand labeled 'For Fire' suddenly appeared in primary-school hallways after the riots began. In Cape Town, girls at a prestigious white boarding school have weekly civil-defense drills. Normally sleepy Stellenbosch University in the Cape Province countryside was guarded during the rioting by "commandos" of male students and professors. In lower-income suburbs of Johannesburg, white vigilante groups continue neighborhood patrols.

Fear and backlash in both the white and the black commuinities are breaking the tenuous and small amounts of human contact that existed across the harshly drawn color line here. They are also erasing any lingering political influence held by the more liberal English-speaking minority within the ruling white minority.

Still dominant in commerce and industry, the 2 million English-speakers have seen their potential role as a bridge between the races smashed by the rising conflict of Afrikaner and black nationalisms.

Moreover, the increasing pressures the white minority faces at home and abroad are rapidly blurring many of the ethnic and political differences that have locked the English-speakers and the 2.3 million Afrikaners, descendants of the Dutch-speaking Boer settlers, in conflict for most of a century.

Coming to power in 1948, the Afrikaners' National Party has retained the Westminister-style Parliament and Cabinet system it inherited, although it severed the countrys' ties to the Commonwealth in 1961. One English -speaking academic maintains that this has been done to convince English-speakers that "all is well," despite the continuing suppression of basic civil rights for blacks and some dissident whites.

"There is no room in South Africa for liberal politics as we know the term today," a depressed english-speaking businessman admitted in the confines of Cape Town's only remaining gentleman's club, patterned exactly on a London model. "We took care of business and profits, while the Afrikaners were taking care of running the country."

Until now, the harsh system of segregation the Afrikaners installed under the name of apartheld has not been in open conflict with the English-speakers' business interests. The failure of liberal racial politics in South Africa has been in part due to the continuing workability of a system that many English-speakers profit from while criticizing.

"It is not true that an unjust society has to be an unworkable one," a white liberal noted. "What is beginning to bother people, I think, is that this particular system may be losing its workability."

After black riots began in June, the Transvaal chamber of industrialists and businessmen sent Prime Minister John Vorster a confidential memorandum listing black grievances and pleading with the government to improve black housing and education and to remove barriers put on the skilled jobs blacks can hold.

Nowhere in the 26-page memorandum, which the prime minister did not even bother to acknowledge, do the employers suggest that the government authorize collective bargaining by black unions, which have no legal standing here and which most of the employers refuse to recognize or deal with.

With attention fastened on the conflict between the black majority of 18 million and the 4.3 million whites, the ethnic rivalries and tensions between the English-speakers and Afrikaners have often been overlooked. But they have been vital forces here.

"The Afrikaners' drive for power has always been to dominate the English-speakers," asserts one of the country's three or four richest businessmen. "Domination over the blacks was only a byproduct."

Total political domination over both groups and a total monopoly on arms manufacture, procurement and use in South Africa have not stilled the Afrikaner elite's intense sense of insecurity and burning distrust of other nations.

Afrikaner intellecturals often refer to their own besieged determination as an equivalent to what has been called Israel's "Masada complex." In 72 A.D., the Jews chose to stand and die in the Judean town of Masada rather than surrender to the Romans.

But an equivalent collective state of mind here would in fact be a Blood River obsession, and it would not be very equivalent. The Afrikaners' historic reference point of violence is the victory in which the Boers killed 3,000 Zulu warriors in a few hours on Dec. 16, 1838, while suffering only three wounded.

The annual commemorations of this victory have been growing shrill and pessimistic as pressures increase on the white minority. "South Africa must not be cowed, prescribed to or intimidated, not even by the United States." Information Minister Connie Mulder volunteered at one celebration last month. At another, President Nicholas Diederichs said South Africa was on the brink of another Blood River that could be the most vicious battle in the country's history.

Afrikaners say they do not expect others who have not shared their violent, tribalistic history to understand fully their fears that allowing affluent blacks to buy houses near their housing areas or to ride on the same buses threatens their cultural identity.

At times, their unyielding commitment to their "traditional way of life" seems to produce startling leaps of logic, described by South African writed Alan Paton recently as enshrined "fundamental irrationality" in the country's political codes of conduct.

"Let us assume there is majority rule," said Minister of Police and Justice James T. Kruger after his lengthy description of a totally peaceful process that led to a huge black majority in Parliament. "Whites won't accept that. They would still control the civil service and the economy and would probably sabotage the whole thing, and the country would wind up in ruins."

Earlier, he had said that "all the black man has to do is accept" the government's "separate development" program - which would effectively entrench the disenfranchisement of the African majority in national politics - "and doors will open to him as never before."

Black unrest has coincided with and intensified a sharp plunge in South Africa's economy. Investors are shying away from putting their money in, and residents are looking for ways to get some money out.

Strict exchange-control laws have stemmed the kind of capital flight that followed the Sharpeville shootings in 1960, when $207 million fled South Africa in seven months. But the all-important net capital inflow dropped in 1976 to less than half the $2.5 billion recorded in 1975. Knowledgeable business sources report that worried South African whites are buying up diamonds, expensive oil paintings and other goods that can be exported quietly and quickly and resold abroad. Currency swindles are growing, too.

White immigration from overseas is down, according to government sources, who say that the beginning of a rush of white settlers from Rhodesia to South Africa is distorting the total immigration figures, which appear stable.

Vorster recently said he was aware that many people were talking about leaving the country, but warne: "Anywhere else in the free world, if you allow yourself to be frightened and bluffed into submission now, your end will be swift and certain." He called on all whites to stay and "fight for our beliefs."

But inquiries from white South Africans about emigrating to the United States and Canada continue to run at five to 10 times the previous rate. The number of South Africans seeking entrance to American medical schools doubled to 160 in 1976, and at least 91 physicians and dentists emigrated from South Africa last year.

"This brain-drain of skilled, professional people who could have an effect on public thinking is a tragedy for a country that needs people to speak out, to protest and to fight discrimination," Helen Suzman, the country's most outspoken liberal parliamentarian, said in a tacit admission that the emigration is further weakening the enfeebled liberal opposition.

Political analysts believe that the infolw of disillusioned whites from Rhodesia and farther north in Africa is also giving the English-speaking electorate a more conservative cast.

The Nationalists hold 70 per cent of the 171 seats in Parliament's key lower house and have not faced a serious electoral threat from the opposition parties, essentially led and supported by English-speakers, since 1948.

The United Party offers a softer application of segregation. It has become a pale shadow of the Nationalists in recent years, joining in teh passing of repressive security laws intended to break black political activity. Its leader, de Villiers Graaff, appears to be seeking a graceful way to dissolve it.

The Progressive Reform Party introduced the idea of a qualified franchise for blacks of a certain education and income, and triggered immediate denunciations by Vorster for having obvious Communistc leanings. Efforts to negotiate a merger between the two opposition parties are stuck on arguments over the amount of discrimination they will officially support.

"We are not the force for change," Progressive party leader Colin Eglin said in Cape Town. "But we can be an eventual factor in change. Since the riotings there is only Afrikaner power - through the police - and African power - through the rioting."

But neither side appears to be ready to listen to voices of moderation now.

When Progressive members of Parliament sent word to black student leaders in August that they would like to discuss the grievances causing the riots, the answer came back that the students would not see them.

"We would have been willing to sit down with Vorster or Kruger and discuss it," one student leader said later. "We may hate them, but they have power and can talk about our problems. White liberals in this society can do nothing but expose us to more danger. Before, we let them water down our anger and make us believe that whites didn't think we were animals. Since June, we know what the whites think. All of them."

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