The revolution has yet to come to this tranquil white community on the eastern edge of Johannesburg.

There are no burning barricades on the wide and tidy avenues. No black youths with rocks menace white matrons as they make the rounds of banks, beauty parlors and supermarkets.

Instead, the 80,000 whites who live here go about the daily business of earning a living and raising a family seemingly oblivious to the political turmoil smoldering only a few miles away in the besieged black townships of the East Rand.

"For most of the whites the unrest has little more than nuisance value," said the Rev. Neville Johanie, a Baptist minister here. "Life goes on for them. Maybe your maid doesn't come in one morning because of the trouble. But that's all."

As in Benoni, the 4.5 million whites who rule South Africa generally have carried on as though little has changed during a year of black violence and a six-week-old state of emergency. Four decades of apartheid have separated them from the country's black majority and provided legally enshrined privileges.

But the country's deepening political crisis is slowly beginning to touch their lives and to force them to take notice of something many might prefer to ignore.

Political instability has thwarted South Africa's attempt to stage an economic recovery -- and the resulting double-digit inflation, high unemployment, and big increases in the costs of imported goods have meant a decline in white living standards. Black boycotts of white businesses in a half dozen cities have caused further damage.

Many white families have also been affected by the periodic call-ups of Army reservists who supplement police in the townships.

But the largest, although less measurable, impact may be psychological -- the loss of confidence about the future and the feeling among many whites that South Africa is slowly but inexorably moving toward an explosion.

Some are resorting to what is known locally as "the chicken run." Western embassies report a rise in visa applications, private emigration services are opening and a new advertisement in the Johannesburg Star offers advice on how to obtain a second passport.

The sense of unease has grown so strong in recent weeks that even the staunchly progovernment Citizen newspaper in Johannesburg was forced to take notice. In an editorial last week, it pleaded with whites not to panic.

"The situation in South Africa is serious," it said, "but for heaven's sake, let's snap out of our despondency. Let's not talk as if the end of the world has arrived."

The fear is fed by a lack of information. Although whites enjoy relatively broad press freedoms, the flow of news about the unrest is constricted. Most whites get their news from a state-controlled national television network that hews to the government's line and has a policy of consigning the most graphic scenes of township violence and police brutality to the cutting room floor. Thus whites see far less violence on their television screens than do Americans or Europeans.

Local newspapers offer more detailed coverage, but they too have been more circumspect following warnings from the police to be "restrained." The threat of official censorship still looms.

Many whites appear to prefer hearing as little as possible about the troubles next door. "They don't know and they don't wish to know because it upsets them," said the Rev. Colin Andrews, who presides over a local Methodist church here. "People are motivated by fear. Go around and see how many houses have new security fences and guard dogs and how many people have armed themselves to the teeth against the onslaught to come."

"The unrest as such doesn't reach us in Benoni," said Mayor Sam Grolman. "But personally I'm concerned. I know there are problems that could be solved, but there's not a lot that I as an individual can do about it."

Benoni began as a frontier mining camp just before the turn of the century, during South Africa's gold rush. When the gold began to run out, the city turned to iron and steel foundries that are still the base of its prosperity.

Blacks once lived just south of town in a community called Actonville. But in the mid-'50s the apartheid planners in Pretoria decided to move blacks farther out. Actonville was raized and later rebuilt for Coloreds, as mixed-race South Africans are known, while blacks were relocated to the north in Daveyton, across a four-lane highway that serves as a psychological Berlin Wall.

Only six miles separate the two communities, but in terms of affluence, living conditions and expectations the distance is enormous and in many ways growing.

"At the same time we were resettling black people we were removing from our view the victims of our society," said the Rev. Nico Smith, a Dutch Reformed minister who is one of the few whites who has crossed into the black world. He gave up teaching at an all-white university four years ago to take a pulpit in a black township near Pretoria.

"We built our own separate world where blacks were only allowed in as functionaries," said Smith. "Now we're paying for it with the terrible alienation blacks feel and our own frightening ignorance."

Benoni's whites are evenly divided between English speakers and the Dutch-descended Afrikaners who dominate the Pretoria government. The community has a reputation as one of the more progressive in the East Rand.

Grolman speaks of the efforts the city has made in recent years to reach out across the gap to the residents of Daveyton. The local Rotary Club to which he belongs contributes books to the Daveyton library and helped finance the township's first high school and a day-care center.

But the implacable reality of apartheid often obstructs such efforts. Andrews said that for 15 years his church had applied to the government to integrate its nursery and day-care center. "All the time we've been turned down," he said.

Apartheid also permeates daily life here in ways few whites notice. Grolman, for instance, said it was his impression that most restaurants here are integrated -- much as President Reagan in an interview last week stated that all segregation of restaurants and entertainment places in South Africa had been "eliminated."

But a tour of the city last Friday with the Rev. Steve Mochechane, a black pastor with the International Assembly of God church in Daveyton, gave a much different picture.

Mochechane, accompanied by this white reporter, was refused table service at four restaurants, two located in the city-owned Benoni Plaza shopping mall and two Wimpy fast food stands -- even though Wimpy's Johannesburg headquarters announced last month that it was integrating all its facilities.

Managers at the Wimpys said they had not yet received government certificates allowing them to serve blacks. In the meantime, blacks can only be served at a takeout window facing the sidewalk.

Some changes have come to Benoni. Mochechane no longer has to line up in an alley to do his banking; he can now stand in line with whites inside. But movie theaters remain closed to blacks, as does the public library. A librarian there told Mochechane he could order books through the Daveyton library.

Mochechane said he knew of only one racially mixed restaurant, a small cafe whose manager says it has lost white business since integrating. Even there, whites sit at special tables in one corner of the establishment.

"Black people have gotten so used to this kind of thing that most of them believe their proper place is on the pavement," said Mochechane.

Buses are also segregated here. As for trains, the government announced a change last weekend. Most cars are now integrated -- but certain cars on each train remain reserved for whites only.

Few whites here attempt to defend such petty indignities. But many believe the more fundamental pillars of apartheid -- segregated residential areas and public schools -- must remain.

"It's easy to integrate when it doesn't threaten your interests, but we are threatened by sheer weight of numbers," said Baptist cleric Terry Funnell. "With one-man, one-vote, we'd have no hope."

There is much talk in South Africa about white backlash against the unrest and growing dissatisfaction with what is criticized as the muddled policies of a government torn by indecision and trapped somewhere between halfhearted reform and repression.

Officials of the rightist Conservative Party, a white splinter group that broke off from the ruling Nationalists three years, contend they are gaining fresh support in areas like the East Rand.

They will put that support to a test in a parliamentary by-election next month in the East Rand city of Springs, one of five such polls nationally that will be a measure of white discontent with the government.

Clerics in Benoni say they see some backlash in their own congregations when blacks are invited to services. The Rev. Andrews said his Methodist church had lost perhaps a dozen white members since a handful of blacks were admitted as congregants.

But the overall impression here is not one of white backlash but of a more complicated mixture of guilt, concern and anxiety.

"A lot depends on your political persuasion," said Mayor Grolman. "But I think that many people here are growing more aware of what is going on in the townships and that they are more concerned because they can see that this time the problem is not going to go away."