After the release last summer of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela from prison and President F.W. de Klerk's declaration of his intention to dismantle apartheid, South Africa has been in the process of deciding what a restructured nation would be like.

The evolution from rigid apartheid to a shared life is a story that is unfolding in slow steps. It's a living history that is hard to predict because of the divisions of politics, economy and culture that go way beyond the simple divisions of black and white people.

This complexity is aptly tackled in "The Death Throes of Apartheid," an hour-long documentary tonight at 10 on Channel 26 and Channel 32. Narrator Peter F. Krogh, the dean of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, bypasses the familiar newsmakers to talk to people making the daily adjustments in the gold mines, on the farms, in offices and on campuses.

In this watershed year for South Africa, this can't be a gingerly conversation, and Krogh presents some unvarnished views. He talks to whites and blacks who are armed, whites and blacks who are praying and talking together, and whites and blacks who fear what some members of their own races are saying and doing. Krogh's narrative underscores the uncertainty: "If there is no turning back, there is no clear map of where South Africa is going."

In Natal Province a political conflict between the African National Congress and the Inkatha, a political group, has erupted into a civil war in which thousands have died in the last five years. Krogh shows the snapshots of frustration, not only political but economic. There are neat brick suburban homes; there are tin shacks, where children are raised and corn is boiled.

In Cape Town, where a number of "coloreds," or mixed-race people, are interviewed, the complications of a splintered black-and-colored platform are explored. Barney Desai, a member of the Pan African Congress, resents that the government is negotiating with the ANC. After 27 years of exile, he returned to Cape Town and found that "apartheid is still very much alive. I thought I was coming to its burial." Frank van der Horst, a leader of the Workers Organized for Socialist Action, wonders about the motivations of the white-minority ruling party. For the same government that arrested, detained and shot people, "to switch overnight is suspicious."

The motivations of the de Klerk party are also questioned by groups of Afrikaners. The ranks of some of the militant white groups are increasing, as are some black and colored organizations with socialist leanings. Some views are entrenched. And Krogh lets the camera be the commentator as J.H. Kleynhans, one of the founders of the Conservative Party, says: "These blacks are Third World people. They haven't got our civilization." Fritz Bezuidenhout, a farmer and geologist, says he is getting used to the idea of integration but "there are some things ... not negotiable: the culture, the language." As apartheid slowly moves to its final years, some are prepared for war. But as this documentary shows, more are preparing for a long and painful psychic adjustment that cannot be healed by either Mandela's or de Klerk's words.