As South Africa drifts further into civil violence, the government detention yesterday of CBS and ABC camera crews marked a further escalation in a corollary struggle involving the foreign press and the story it is trying to show the world.

Caught between rival and increasingly violent black factions on one hand, and ever more constrictive government policies to curb press coverage, reporters and photographers have become increasingly fearful, not just for their stories, but for their lives.

Last week two reporters were wounded by gunfire, and two journalists for Britain's Independent Television News (ITN) -- George D'Arthxl and Andile Fasi -- were caught between battling black factions at the Crossroads township and attacked with heavy sugar cane knives, known as pangas. D'Arth lies in a coma and is listed in critical condition.

"This is the most serious, the most horrible," says CBS correspondent Allen Pizzey, interviewed by phone from Johannesburg. Pizzey was 100 yards away from the Crossroads incident at the time and escaped danger by jumping over a fence. "When one of your own gets it, it's pretty depressing. We walk around believing we're immune. You have to think that way. But when one of your own goes down, that brings your mortality close to home."

"Rarely were journalists a physical target" in South Africa in the past, says NBC correspondent Mike Boettcher. "But after Crossroads, it's a whole different ballgame."

The attack has added fear to the sense of bewilderment the press already shares in figuring out exactly what the government's latest restrictions on the press mean.

Thursday, when the government declared a nationwide state of emergency, banned all gatherings commemorating the 1976 Soweto riots and rounded up what could be thousands of black activists, it also -- in effect -- told the press not to film the revolution.

The ban applies to the whole country. Police permission must be obtained "to film, photograph, tape record or make drawings of unrest or of any action by the security forces," according to the Government Gazette, which published the regulations Thursday.

Thus, with enforcement of these measures left up to police and soldiers, journalists may be arrested for any activity perceived as "subversive." They can be detained indefinitely, face up to 10 years' imprisonment and risk being shot.

"The police have total indemnity," says Allen Pizzey, "and carte blanche to act against us, and they never showed any reticence in the past. It's open season on us."

*The effect of the regulations, says a reporter for a major American newspaper, is to "reduce, if not end, criticism of the government in a large number of areas." Although the regulations are designed to keep blinkers over South African -- rather than the rest of the world's -- eyes, the foreign press gets "caught up in it, perhaps because we're more rigorous in our pursuit of news than domestic papers , so we attract the lightning."

The government's animosity toward foreign reporters, he says, comes from a belief that they undermine the government's image abroad and their presence encourages demonstrators to showcase their violence to the world.

There has been friction this week already between government and foreign press. Fasi, the assaulted ITN soundman, with the support of the Foreign Correspondents Association, has accused the police of failing to intervene when he and D'Arth were attacked. The police, he said, made videotapes of the fallen D'Arth from an armored vehicle before escorting him to hospital. But the charges were flatly denied by National Commissioner of Police Johann Coutee.

Yesterday, the government ordered CBS cameraman Wim de Vos to leave the country after he was arrested for covering a small demonstration Wednesday.

Security police detained and later released two free-lance camera crews who were conducting man-in-the-street interviews for ABC in downtown Johannesburg, seeking reaction to the state of emergency declaration and Prime Minister Pik Botha's speech. Their videotape was confiscated.

"It is getting harder and harder to cover anything in South Africa," said CBS News Executive Vice President Howard Stringer at a press conference.

The emergency decree "makes a difficult job almost impossible at the moment," says ITN African correspondent Peter Sharp. "We're not allowed into Soweto, the gathering of information in the townships is impossible . . . We're feeling our way gingerly through what can only be described as a mine field."

The last emergency decree, imposed last October, applied only to certain areas of tension and the broadcast media could work around the bans by using file footage of demonstrations, funerals or riots in non-emergency areas. But now, says Pizzey, the government "considers damn near everything from criticism to graffiti to be subversive."

The physical danger has become almost incidental to the occupational questions of what to show, what to say and what to write. Reporters have been meeting with lawyers, talking with editors and scanning the Government Gazette to find out what is and isn't allowed. "Even if we used the work of a free-lance person who provided the footage, there's a restriction against broadcasting it," says Jerry Lamprecht, general manager of foreign news at NBC.

Television crews, said CBS' Stringer, cannot use footage filmed by black cameramen. "If we do, we'll be flown out of the country."

One broadcast journalist who did not wish to be identified said a number of TV journalists had raised the possibility of going to Soweto en masse with camera crews and risking mass arrest, if the event "was big enough." But such a move would seem unlikely, given the retaliatory powers available to security forces.

Although the government is curtailing on-site photography, "it's not going to stop coverage," says NBC's Mike Boettcher, "it's going to evolve coverage. I suppose they could shut out the satellite transmission, but we could put the videotapes on airplanes. We've always found ways to get material out. They could kick us out of here but, as long as we're here, we'll figure out a way to report it."

There is also the constant question of human resources: The vastness of South Africa -- four-fifths the size of Alaska -- makes it difficult to keep tabs on which townships are going to experience trouble. It is vital for the news organizations to have contacts and resources all over the country. "Sometimes things happen so quickly," says one reporter, "The crews have to make a run for it."

"There's just so much news," says a print journalist, "one has to organize one's activities as carefully as possible to make sure you're in the right place at the right time."

Guessing which of the townships should be covered, says BBC cameraman Francois Marais, "is like a daily exercise in hanging the donkey's tail in the right place."

Then, when that township erupts, the challenge is finding "the one incident that will spark off an incident in a nearby town," producing yet another story to cover, says Marais.

A major problem for the working press is the psychological pressure on even hardened newsmen of watching suspected police informers burned alive with flaming tires called "necklaces".

*"There's an enormous amount of horrors," says Marais. "This necklacing -- it's a horrific death. You can't keep witnessing the story without it having some effect on you . . . When we filmed the war in Rhodesia, we knew which side was which. But there aren't any rules that apply here at all."

"He's just exhausted," says the spouse of one BBC journalist. "It's just nonstop here -- one major story after another. The interest in Britain is intense. I don't see much of him."

The danger, she says, is something she tries not to focus on. In the white suburb where she resides, news is restricted so that all appears to be right with the world. "I just wave him off in the morning and greet him in the evening and try not to think about it in between."