Yassin Hussain Ayob, better known as Charlie to everyone in this small northern Transvaal town, has an inscription from the Koran in the office of his gas station that reads, "Allah is with those who are patient."

The exhortation has served him well, for patience and what may be a divine providence have enabled Charlie Ayob to become one of the few known nonwhites in South Africa to prosper from the Group Areas Act, which has ruined the lives of thousands of others.

Under the act, the government assigns each racial group to its own area. The less interracial contact, the less friction is the theory behind the apartheid policy of racial separation.

For small-town Indians like Charlie, this has meant being thrown out of town altogether. Most of South Africa's 800,000 Indians live in Natal, where they first came in 1860 as indentured laborers to work the province's sugar plantations. A sprinkling set themselves up as traders in the country towns of the Transvaal.

These towns are too small to have separate racial ghettos, so the Group Areas Act means the Indians have to move into the bush with a buffer of a few miles between them and the white residents of the town.

It usually spells ruin for the Indian traders, who are cut off from the white customers on whom they depend.

In 1972, Charlie was running a used car lot and doing modestly well in the small town of Louis Trichardt (population 8,500), 68 miles south of the Limpopo River, which forms South Africa's border with Zimbabwe.

When the proclamation of the Group Areas Act came, he and the town's other 465 Indians had to move out into the bush. They feared the worst.

But Charlie was patient. In 1978, the National Roads Board built a new highway bypassing Louis Trichardt. It happened to go right past Charlie's new used car lot out in the bush.

Charlie immediately applied for a license to put in gas pumps, and because he is now in his own group area where restrictions are not supposed to apply to him because of his race the government could not refuse.

Louis Trichardt's white filling station proprietors were furious. Having the traffic bypass town was bad enough. Having all that business go to Charlie was intolerable.

The case was taken up by the Northern Transvaal Division of the Motor Industries Federation and by the Louis Trichardt Sakekamer, the white Afrikaner business association. They went to see their member of Parliament, the minister of community development and even the prime minister.

But their efforts were to no avail. Apartheid is an inflexible doctrine, and the decision stood. Charlie says the delays nearly doubled the cost of his gas station, but he opened it three months ago and is doing a roaring trade.

Back in town Johan Gilfillan, chairman of the Sakekamer and owner of Louis Trichardt's biggest gas station, says his sales have dropped from 40,000 gallons a month to 21,000 gallons.

He admits he tried to stop Charlie from opening his station, but he denies it was for racist reasons. "Me and Charlie are big mates," he says. "You ask anyone around here."

He says he was against Charlie and the other Indians being moved in the first place. "It was our ancestors who wanted that. We see it differently. We see it as splitting the money as well as the community."

The fact is Louis Trichardt's white traders have all lost out as a result of the Indians being moved out of town, and not only because of the highway. The Indian traders have drawn a lot of customers out of the town, too.

"We were the first discounters in South Africa," says Charlie with a smile. "The prices in the Indians' shops are always better."

"We want them back," says Gilfillan. "This has been very bad for Louis Trichardt."

Louis Trichardt's experience has made an impression in other Transvaal towns. The incongruous result is that many of South Africa's most conservative white town councils are now campaigning to stop the eviction of their Indians under the Group Areas Act.

In the biggest of them, Pietersburg, the site for the new, out-of-town "Indian area" was laid out two years ago. It is now becoming overgrown by the bush and there are no signs of anyone being sent to live there.

Elsewhere in South Africa, more than 35,000 Indian families have been moved since the Group Areas Act came into effect in 1953.