Their faces are taut with concern. They sit on the pink velvet sofas, full of moral outrage, anguishing over the injustice of it all, full of moral outrage as only those who feel truly misunderstood can be.

Outside through the picture windows the beautifully flowering garden, perfectly manicured, lends a background of serenity for the little gathering.

Inside, it is only a reminder of how much there is to lose.

The ladies in their conservatively tailored dresses, their careful hairdos, sip their wine from crystal goblets and earnestly explain their side of the story.

The white Afrikaner side of the South African story.

Mrs. Frederick W. de Klerk is the hostess. Her husband has just been named a cabinet minister, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and of Sport and of Recreation. ("I like the recreation part of the job best," he will tell you with a convivial wink.)

The house is in Groote Schuur, near the famous hospital, in Capetown in a government compound where the prime ministers and other cabinet ministers live.

Mrs. de Klerk is a tall, slim, willowy woman with a pale face, dark hair and high cheek bones. She is the most chic of the four, fashionably dressed in a beige knit suit. She is a gracious hostess, if a bit nervous, as she ushers her guests into the living room for their talk. Clearly unused to being interviewed, naturally shy, she seems anxious throughout the lunch, anxious to please, anxious to be taken seriously, anxious to be understood.

The ladies, Mrs. Nicholas Treurnicht, Mrs. George Malan, and Mrs. Pierre Cronje, whose husbands are members of parliament, along with Mrs. de Klerk, have just come from a wives club meeting of the ruling Nationalist Party. The prime minister's wife, Mrs. P.W. Botha, presided over the affair.

They have agreed to a round-table luncheon interview.

These four women are the wives of some of the most powerful and prominent men in South Africa, the decision makers, the pacesetters. It is certain that their husbands all belong to the bruderbond , a secret organization for men composed of the political, religious and business leaders of the Afrikaner community. It could be likened to a respectable Ku Klux Klan in the days of the old South. The husbands of these four women are among those responsible for the policies that are set on all matters including those of race relations or apartheid.

They are totally representative of the average Afrikaner mentailty. In a country where the white Afrikaners number only 4 million to the blacks' 18 million, where there are 2 1/2 million cloreds and 800,000 Indians, these women examplify the growing fears of the white Afrikaners that their idyllic world will end violently.

White Afrikaners are descendents of the first Dutch colonists who came in 1750. Many are deeply religious, adhering to the Dutch Reform Church. They are to be differentiated from the English-speaking whites who are more liberal. The Afrikaners' detestation of the English speaking population is a seemingly permanent fallout of the late 19th-century Boer war with the British.

In South Africa, the Afrikaners are divided into two groups.

These are the "verligte ," which means the enlightened and the "verkrampte " which means, literally, the constipated.

The verligte is more open-minded on the subject of the race question, yet nowhere near as liberal as the English speaker. The verkrampte is very hardline, very conservative.

The women at Mrs. de Klerk's would probably fall into the category of middle-of-the-road to the verkrampte .

They believe strongly in the moral and religious rightness of their cause and they have no qualms at all about speaking openly on the subject of race. In fact they are proud of their positions and they openly sought out a reporter so they could tell their side of the story which they feel is not fairly reported in American newspapers and certainly not understood. They feel that by explaining themselves they will be able to persuade the outside world of the rightness of their position.

Their native tongue is Afrikaans, a language of Dutch origin similar to Flemish. They apologize for their English. Although nearly perfect, it is spoken with what sounds like a German accent.

"We never speak English," explains Mrs. Cronje proudly. The 'We' and the 'They'

They speak in terms of "we' and "they" and at first it is difficult to determine who are "we" and who "they." Only after listening carefully does it become clear that "we" means whites -- not all whites, but only white Afrikaners.

"They" means the blacks and the colored, who are totally separate from the blacks, and the Indians who are separate from the blacks and coloreds. The blacks, however, are more "they" than the coloreds or the Indians.

Mrs. Malan is a portly, heavy set matron with white hair, a motherly looking woman. She is farmer's wife. Her husband represents the Port Elizabeth district. She is dressed in a conservative flowery nondescript print. She seems more secure in her point of view than the others. She tends to laugh more, to be a bit jollier, less afraid of saying the wrong thing. She has a tendency to nod and bob a lot when she is agreeing with the others.

"So much is being done by so few of us for so many of them," she says plaintively. "Yet we're not being recognized. We've given up such a lot of what We're used to. And accepting new values; it's not always easy to accept new values. We know we have a long way to go but they always come and jump down our throats."

"Our good faith is not being accepted," chimes in Mrs. Cronje.

Mrs. Cronje is a diminutive person with a sallow complexion, dark hair and darting eyes. Her husband represents Durban on the coast, a city where most of the Indian population in South Africa lives.

She is the quintessential woman's club character, talking constantly, making polite chit-chat, very proper, upper middle class, putting-the-best-face-on-things-to-the-neighbors type.

"We're honestly and deeply a Christian nation," she continues. "We are. We do as Christians. But we are not accepted as that."

"You see," explains Mrs. Malan, "we never use the word apartheid." She explains that the word "apartheid" for the Afrikaners is just as taboo as comingling with blacks. "We don't use that word the same way we don't sleep together or eat together. They should have their own quarters. We should not eat together."

"Yes," says Mrs. de Klerk. "When the Nationalist Party came into power some 30 ago everything was mixed. The whites were getting rebellious. Because the blacks have the numbers. They outnumber us eight to one. We want exclusivity for the whites." And she does not hesitate to admit, "I am prejudiced."

But, unfortunately, say the ladies, that exclusivity could not be maintained and they are faced with changes and new adjustments every day which are very hard for them.

"The only things that are totally separate now," says Mrs. de Klerk, "are the public schools and the living areas, and even now there are servants actually living in the white aress."

"Well," says Mrs. Cronje, "of course the cinemas and the restaurants and the trains are separate."

"But the buses in Capetown have been opened, though not in Johannesburg. You have the numbers problem there."

"And the airways," sighs Mrs. Malan. "They're open now. And it was something for us to get used to sitting next to a black man. But we took it," she says with the staunch pride of a pioneer. "And without saying anything to humiliate them either."

"Still," says Mrs. de Klerk, "the air hostesses have to serve the black man."

"And the hairdressers," remembers Mrs. Malan. "We always only had white service before. Now there are blacks and colored washing your hair. We never had that contact with them before. Just having them touching you...." she shudders. "We've always had black nursemaids, they could touch the children. But I didn't want them to touch me. But," she shrugs, "now we adapt. Now blacks wash my hair."

"And there are black nurses," says Mrs. Cronje. "That's very intimate. And we are accepting black students at Afrikaans universities."

"Now in Cape Province," says Mrs. Malan, "I can't even go shopping on a Saturday morning. The streets are full of blacks. So we just leave it to them. There are so many . There are crowds of blacks and coloreds. You know their way of living has improved such a lot during the last 20 years under the Nationalist Party) that you just can't believe it."

"They have much more money to spend," says Mrs. Conje. "And they're very good spenders," agrees Mrs. Treurnicht. They spend everything they have."

Mrs. Treurnicht is the quietest of the three, the most conservative, the sturdiest looking. She is very plain, staunch with a sensible suit, sensible shoes, sensible hairdo and an attitude to match. She could be a head nurse, or a policewoman. Her husband represents the area outside of Capetown, and his first cousin, Dr. A.P. Treurnicht, leader of the National Party in the Transvaal is one of the most powerful men in the government and rumored to be the nixt prime minister.

A. P. Treurnicht is a minister in the Dutch Reform Church, and is considered to be among the most hard-line of hardliners. The white liberals refer to him as "Dr. No."

"You have this problem in America," says Mrs. Cronje, "where the blacks move in and the whites move out. Well, we opened our parks in Durban, in the white area. Now they come in hordes." Her lips tighten. "You won't have any whites in the parks anymore." 'I Don't Begrudge Them Buses'

"Now they're making the buses open to all races in Capetown. I don't begrudge them the buses. Why I watched a little girl get out of a bus the other day and there were no whites on it but her."

All four ladies raise their eyebrows as the implied taboo subject rears its head ever so slightly. "It's ever so dangerous," murmurs Mrs. Treurnicht.

"It only has to happen once," agrees Mrs. Cronje.

"And then the parents will have to drive their children," says Mrs. de Klerk.

It is not only the bus situation that disturbs Mrs. de Klerk. Opening the restaurants worries her too. For instance, she will tell you, what if she walked into a restaurant alone and there were all black men inside. "I would be afraid of what might happen."

"You must understand," she says. "We owe them a living. We try to give it to them. We want them to be happy. But we have to protect ourselves."

The group solemnly nods its assent.

By this time the women are on a second glass of wine and are beginning to relax, unbend and perhaps even enjoy the interview. They lean back in the sofas, put their pocketbooks on the floor, uncross their knees. As each one speaks, she encourages the others and before long the room is buzzing with the highly pitched voices of excited females talking on a subject about which they care enormously. Once they get going, spurred on by each other, they become totally unrestrained and confide their true thoughts in a way that is normally confined to the privacy of their own living rooms.

All of these women feel strongly that one of the reasons the outside world is so unsympathetic to the cause of the white Afrikaner is because they don't understand, really understand the problem. They don't understand what the blacks, the colored and the Indians in South Africa are really like. And it infuriates them that Americans try to compare the race situation in South Africa to the race problems in the American South.

"The ones you meet here are more cultured and educated," says Mrs. Treurnicht to an American visitor.

"We see the lower classes," says Mrs. Malan. "yet the visitors judge us by the cultured ones."

"We are doing our best to uplift them," says Mrs. de Klerk, "to get them away from alcohol -- that's an unfortunate weak point of theirs -- to get them to work -- unfortunately they stay away from work. I just don't know why. We do want them to be a nation unto themselves. They stem from a group which is very different from the whites. We have eight groups of blacks from different ethnic nations. The colored on the other hand are decendants of the Hottentots, the slaves, the Malays. They are very religious, more cultured. But everything we try to do for them is considered bad before we start. You must understand we are not trying to humiliate them. We love them, we grew up with them. But we have a different way of life. Blacks, for instance, have children out of matrimory easily. Then the black woman gives the children to her mother because she can't support them."

"And don't forget," says Mrs. Treurnicht, "the birth rate is against us."

"People with their own problems come here and don't seem to look over their shoulders. Is this a good way to avoid your own problems?" asks Mrs. Cronje.

"We had a series on the American Negro," she continues, "and they seemed almost jealous of our blacks. They even changed their names back to their African names."

One of the problems all the women see is that Capetown, where the first Afrikaners settled, was originally colored and it was only later that the blacks came down to the cape from the bush, mostly to find work.The whites are trying to keept keep the blacks out, trying to keep Capetown a city for whites and coloreds only and living with coloreds is hard enough from their point of view. 'Blacks Keep Coming Here'

"But blacks keep on coming here," says Mrs. de Klerk. "People take them in their employ without finding out if they have housing. (It's against the law to hire someone who has no officially approved housing, an Afrikaner law designed to prevent the inflow of blacks.) Then they have to squat." (The illegal town of Crossroads outside of Capetown is the notorious black squatters' camp.) Mrs. de Klerk pauses and sighs. "Though I must say," she says, having thought it over for a moment, "blacks are more reliable than coloreds. For instance the milk delivery is done by blacks."

"And the women are more reliable than the men," adds Mrs. Treurnicht. "You employ them in your family and they become part of the family."

"Drink," says Mrs. Cronje, "that's the main problem." And the ladies nod. "But we're working on that," she says. "We're trying to give them an identity."

"But since the colored are more cultured than the blacks," says Mrs. Cronje, "is why we are going to give them responsibility." (The South African government is considering having a separate parliament for coloreds and Indians, though not for blacks.)

"But the work ethic," says Mrs. Treurnicht, shaking her head in dispair. "If only we could get that in the blacks and the coloreds." Time for Lunch

The minister, Frederick de Klerk, comes home for luch every day. He arrives much to the delight of the ladies to preside over the lunch his wife has prepared. It is her cook's day off. He opens one of their best white wines and sits at the head of the table, listening to the ladies explain their point of view, interjecting a word here and there for clarification.

Mrs. de Klerk is busy in the kitchen fixing a casserole, a fresh salad and fruit for lunch, all the white she is insisting her husbnad is really the articulate one and it is he who should be interviewed because he makes their points so much more cleverly. The ladies nod their assent. But the minister leaves it to them once he has said grace in Afrikaans and the lunch has begun, and he disappears rather quickly afterward.

The ladies pick up where they left off.

"The Zulus," says Mrs. Cronje, "have always fought.We came in time to save them from fighting amongst themselves."

"These peopel in Zululand are very backward," says Mrs. de Klerk. (There are approximately 5 million Zulus, the largest black tribe in South Africa.) "We whites moved in to teach them agriculture. We are trying to make. them self-reliant."

"They haven't got a sense of tomorrow," says Mrs. Cronje. "Traditionally they live for today. And of course, they're warring people. They all carry knives. That's traditional. Crime is almost a daily thing. We're almost getting used to it."

They explain that there is an Afrikaner expression "white by night" which refers to the good old days when there was a curfew for blacks in whit areas, where blacks were not allowed to sleep in white houses and were off the streets at night. Now, they say, with the economice situation the way it is, with more and more blacks out of jobs, the women servants are boarding in the houses and their men come and sleep with them there in the servants quarters. The ladies particularly deplore this practice, they say, because, as Mrs. Cronje puts it, "from there they can organize their burgling at night."

Still, for a Mrs. Malan, who lives on a farm when she is not in Capetown, thigns are not as bad, she says.

"I live on small farm," she says. "My husband tells me when he goes away, be sure to lock the door. But our farm people (the blacks) see me as a mother person. In illness or sickness they come to me, when they have a shortage or something, they come to me. When they have fights with each other, they come and complain. The other side of the picture is the rural area."

"Oh the way they treat one another," says Mrs. Cronje. "My servant is old. When she goes to the hosiptal now there are blacks taking care of her. She says they have no sympathy. They treat each other very badly. The servants say if the Afrikaners have to leave they will go with us. They will not stay here. Their people are cruel to them. They're more afraid of them than we are." Fear of Numbers

When the subject of fear arises, the ladies are unanimouns in their belief that the single thing they most have to fear from the blacks is, and they say it in chorus as though some sort of religious chant, "numbers." They are afraid of the 18 million blacks which it is estimated in the next decade will be somewhere around 30 million blacks. And that means a lot more black men and the fear of being sexually assaulted. And the fear of sexual integration frightens them even more. Because the more blacks and whites who mix sexually, the more coloreds there are.

This brings up the ugly subject of the immorality law, the law in South Africa forbidding people of different colors or races to have sexual intercouse with each other or to marry.

While the women munch on fresh figs and grapes which have been produced by a black male servant, the Sandra Lang case is brought up. This is the case of the white girl who suddenly -- at the age of about 9 -- was reclassified as a colored because her skin was darker than her parents. She was thrown out of her school, ostracized by her friends, disowned by her parents.

Mrs. de Klerk justified the case. "We believe," she says, "that the child's mother had had relations with a black man." She has a pained look on her face now. "You see if people from different color groups plan to marry we ask that they please not marry," she says. "They should go to another country like southwest Africa or the U.S.A. We're not against it. It's just that we cannot cope with it. It doesn't work."

What she mands is that in South Africa people of different colors are assigned to live in different neighborhoods.

If a colored and a white married, for instance, there would be no legal place for them to live together.

In a litany of agreement, almost as though the script had been memorized and rehearsed, the women chime in their views on cue, one after the other, without a slip.

"And public opinion is against it," says Mrs. Treurnicht.

"We cannot accept mixed marriages," says Mrs. de Klerk. "I mean, where will this child live?"

"We're only trying to protect them from themselves," says Mrs. Cronje with a look of sympathy.

"If we let that go we just won't have a solution," says Mrs. de Klerk.

"We're even scared of this happening now that we have mixing in the universities," says Mrs. Malan.

"We ask them please, if you can't keep order, then this country is not for you," says Mrs. de Klerk.

This, according to the ladies, would be the first step toward chaos. The crime rate would go up, they say, they would be inundated with blacks, the squatters' problems would increase and, says Mrs. de Klerk, "what would they do if they had a black government and all the whites fled?"

The Afrikaners have a solution, but they despair over the fact that the blacks don't accept it. The solution is to declare parts of undeveloped rural South Africa, the bush, as native homelands (much like reservations) and send all the blacks back where the whites feel they belong, even though many of them were born in the cities. They have already begun to implement this system, making it illegal for blacks without work permits to live outside their homelands and treating those who do as illegal immigrants.

"I won't use the word 'homeland' because they don't like it," says Mrs. Cronje carefully, "we call it their own countries. They can go vack there and have jobs, appointments, family units of their own. We feel sorry for them because they come here for work but we simply can't have them all here. It will cause friction. We defend our separate idea. What makes Americans so hostile, having people live separately? What about your red Indians?" Mad at English Liberals

The thing that outrages the Afrikaners the most, say these ladies, is the liberal attitude of the English-speaking South Afrikans toward the blacks.

Particularly the criticisms of the Afrikaner Nationalist Party policy of apartheid.

"We have to live with a lot of hypocrisy," says Mr. Cronje. "Most blacks prefer to work for Afrikaners than for the English because they feel we are more sympathetic. We don't keep our servants up all night the way they do. And we're considerate of their day off. And the English press is working against us."

"Yes," says Mrs. de Klerk, "and the blacks read mostly the English press and the English press is nasty."

cThe Sunday papers," says Mrs. Cronje, "are made up of stories about atrocities against the blacks. And the blacks get angry."

"That," says Mrs. Maian, "makes us mad."

For these four South African women, these problems are troublesome, but they are not dire. And they feel that because they are in the right, that because they have justice on their side, thy and their approach to the problems will eventually prevail.

And they seem either to not recognize the growing hostility and militancy of the blacks or do not want to see it.

"Militant blacks?" says Mrs. Treurnicht. "We're not conscious about it."

"It was an ordeal for us to see in Soweto how fast things got out of hand during the riots," says Mrs. Cronje. "But there were no parents there to discipline their children. That's why we want them in their own areas (homelands). So they will have a family structure. And the black leaders know very well that if there is one man-one vote the Zulus will govern the country because they outnumber the rest. The other blacks won't stand for it. They will kill each other off."

"We whites are really a buffer between them," agrees Mrs. Treurnicht. 'We're Hoping for the Best'

"We're trying to go slowly," says Mrs. de Klerk. "To start at the bottom. I think the majority of blacks and colored are not ready for full responsibility of their own affairs. We Afrikaners in the 1930s were poor and backward. We were called poor whites by the English. But we started helping ourselves to lift up economically and in only 40 years we have done it. We were the first freedom fighters in this country, and we were as bitter then as the blacks and the coloreds are now."

"We're still hoping for the best," says Mrs. Treurnicht. "We're hoping the world will realize what we're doing is for the best," says Mrs. Malan.

"And we really believe in what we're doing," says Mrs. Cronje.

"The sacrifices it is costing us is not only in money," says Mrs. Treurnicht.

"We have nowhere to go," says Mrs. Malan.

"The Afrikaner thinks according to a principle which he believes cannot be changed," says Mrs. de Klerk. "We are pioneers. We cannot compromise. It comes very hard."

"And we never give a thought to leaving South Africa," says Mrs. Treurnicht. "In fact, our younger people think even more strong about it than we. We are prepared to stay and fight for our rithts."

Quietly, deferentially, the black servant clears the table as the ladies rise to leave, heedless of his presence.