Had he come along at another time, things would be different. Christian Bezuidenbout knows this. In his father's day, and his father's before him, when apartheid was the law of the land, this country opened up like the African sky to young men like himself who were educated, ambitious and white.
But this is a new South Africa, no longer rigged to play favorites with the 6 million whites who live here among 35 million blacks. So when Bezuidenbout graduates from the elite University of Potchefstroom next year, he plans to leave, taking his economics degree and his dreams to England, perhaps, or Canada or the United States. Australia has become such a popular destination for white college graduates that students across South Africa have coined a phrase for it: "Packing for Perth."
"When I think about my future here, I just really think it is limited," said Bezuidenbout, dark-haired and serious at 19. "A lot of the white youth are really negative about this reconstruction process. We're just not sure if there's room for us at the table anymore, and we see better prospects overseas."
Five years after South Africa dismantled its oppressive system of legalized segregation known as apartheid, the transformation to black majority rule has profoundly changed the white minority that once ruled this nation. Fearful of encroaching crime, worried about how integration is affecting their children's education and resentful of affirmative action policies they consider discriminatory, many whites say they feel threatened by the very reforms that have earned South Africa praise around the world.
Whites have been here for nearly 350 years, and the descendants of early Dutch and French settlers in particular, known as Afrikaners, consider themselves Africa's white tribe and pride themselves on their ruggedness and adaptability. Consequently, many whites have resigned themselves to a new order and generally recognize that apartheid was unkind, unwise and ultimately unworkable. Few seem to want to return to their segregated past; the only political party that advocates the formation of a white homeland could muster 1 percent of the vote in last month's national elections.
Yet while the election of Thabo Mbeki to succeed Nelson Mandela as president overjoyed blacks here, the installation of the country's second black-led administration only deepened the sense of exclusion and loss felt by many whites.
"Whites used to have the kind of relationships with blacks where your housekeepers or your gardeners were almost an extended family," said Lars Fischer, a white owner of a car dealership, one recent weekend afternoon while chatting with family and friends in his gated suburban home here. "Lots of times one of the black guys at work would come up to me and ask for a loan to help bail him out of some jam or another, and of course I'd do it. People really bent over backwards to help," he said.
But now, Fischer's wife, Jeanette, said with a laugh, "we tell them: `Go ask Mandela for the money.' "
"There is that sense," explained Lars Fischer, "that Mandela is taking from the whites to give to the blacks. If I could be reincarnated, I'd come back as a black female . . . because they've got all the advantages now."
Neither staunchly liberal nor hard-line segregationist, the Fischers are hardly remarkable among white South Africans. While their views seem widely held among whites, they are also a matter of intense debate. Even without apartheid, whites hold disproportionate economic power in South Africa, maintaining advantages derived from decades of privilege, accumulated wealth and vastly superior educations. Just 1 percent of whites are poor, compared with nearly 61 percent of black and 38 percent of mixed-race South Africans, many of whom live in ramshackle lean-tos and one-level homes that are roughly the size of a white family's tool shed.
Integration of schools has tripled the class size that white schoolchildren have been accustomed to, but cut it nearly in half for black children who attended overcrowded schools under apartheid. While violent crime has spread to white neighborhoods, black townships remain by far the most dangerous places to live.
"Did the whites think there would be no price to pay for apartheid?" said Vincent Mpho, a black businessman. "Whites have paid such a small price for what they've wrought and yet even that is too much for them."
On the whole, many whites acknowledge that they, as well as blacks, have benefited from the greater civil liberties embraced by Mandela's African National Congress. Under Mandela, laws have extended broader protections to property owners, women, gays and criminal suspects. Books are no longer banned as they were under apartheid, and Mandela's efforts at racial reconciliation virtually wiped away white fears that their country would be consumed by the fire next time, a civil war.
And perhaps most importantly, the metamorphosis of South Africa has liberated many whites from an abiding sense of shame. Since the nation's first all-races election in 1994, international sanctions have been lifted and boycotts ended.
"You used to be embarrassed to be a white South African," said Jeanette Fischer, who owns a cosmetics firm. "I remember when I used to travel abroad for business and someone would ask where I was from. I would lie and say I was from England. The wonderful thing is to be able to be a citizen of the world."
Still, redemption and repulsion commingle in the new South Africa. Afraid of the spread of crime into their neighborhoods, whites have armed their homes and cars and retreated further into a world of gated suburban compounds.
"It's not really that I feel apart from this country," said Andrew Fulton, who is white and an analyst for the South African Institute on Race Relations, "it's that for the first time I feel afraid of this country."
The influx into the classroom of poor, disadvantaged black children has coincided with a drop in test scores at formerly all-white public schools.
But whites seem most offended about the new government's affirmative action policies, which many consider a failed and unfair effort. They are quick to share anecdotes about black affirmative action hires who flopped or qualified whites who were passed over for a job, promotion or entrance into an elite school.
The backlash also has spilled into public forums. When Edwin Cameron, a white judge widely regarded as the greatest jurist of his generation here, was passed over for one of 11 positions on South Africa's equivalent of the Supreme Court, liberal and conservative whites joined in protest -- though even without Cameron on the court, seven of the court's justices are white.
"No one would argue that it is not imperative to remedy the misrepresentation of blacks on the bench," said David Dennis, a white judge on the Cape Town High Court. "But Cameron is so brilliant and so highly regarded that his rejection sends a very clear message to whites that race has indeed become the only factor that matters. That's not the inclusive society that we had hoped for."
As a result, statistics and demographers suggest that whites are leaving in steadily growing numbers. The number of South Africans leaving has nearly doubled since 1990. In 1997, 11,000 applied for citizenship in other countries, representing the fourth consecutive year that the number of emigrants has increased.
And those who remain have withdrawn as well. "Whites are experiencing a psychological immigration where they create an artificial and separate world for themselves with their money," said Eddie Webster, a sociology professor at the University of Witwatersrand. "They've retreated to their suburban homes where they've hired security guards, built taller and taller walls. . . . They've retreated to the private schools, and they've in a way retreated inside their own minds, convinced that they have become second-class citizens in their own land."
CAPTION: Jeanette Fischer, left, and Renee Campbell are among white South Africans who feel threatened by the democratic reforms that replaced apartheid.