THE HOMEMAKERS' EQUAL Rights Association is trying to raise money to help the campaign to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified. They've chosen to auction a Krugerrand, a not very rare South African coin that contains an ounce of gold. The auction won't make more than a few thousand dollars at best. Regular Krugerrands are now selling for about $440 each. But whatever the financial gains, the losses could be more, specifically from liberals and black women, allies the ERA supporters can ill afford to be without in this last critical year of their ratification drive.

Over the last four years, the coin has bec ome a symbol of South Africa's racial policies. Throughout the nation, people have protested against the sale of it.

In this instance, coincidence seems to have married advocates for the liberation of one oppressed group to the symbol of oppression for another.

"We were given the coin. We weren't buying it directly. We were strapped for funds. It was for a good cause, so we thought we would turn swords into plowshares," said Teresa Wedoff, president of the Homemakers' Equal Rights Association.

Judith Krianes, the group's public relations director, concedes the dilemma. "I don't think there would be anyone in our group that wouldn't be eager to protest South Arica's apartheid," she said. "On the other hand the coin is here and it is real and we need to do something for it. I think we have to separate the finances."

Treasurer Roberta Johnson added: "We're not dumb. We're aware of South Africa. But we have never had anybody offer us $500 before. Nobody cares about homemakers. They think we don't have any problems. We're desperate."

But you can't separate finances from the spirit and the goals of the movement. It's the principle of the thing.

It's a question of blood money and symbolism.To the average person in the black community struggling with today's econmic uncertainties, it is hardly a blood-and-guts issue of the magnitude of food stamp cutoffs, unemployment or slashes in Medicaid. Relatively few blacks get directly involved. Who's stopped lately to ask whether the chain around his neck contains gold from South Africa? Or what about that diamond ring?

But South Africa is a very important issue for many of the women ERA needs -- black, educated, middle-class professionals -- the kind who have all too often seen the ERA ratification drive as mostly a white women's battle -- not realizing how getting equal pay for equal work, and better representation in professional, technical and managerial jobs could benefit them.

These women are the logical allies for ERA, and that is why more sensitivity is needed. It seemed never to have seriously occurred to the women in HERA that their Krugerrand bidding would offend black Americans, black Africans and many white Americans.

That's using book money to buy equality. It won't wash, sisters.

Pauli Murray of Baltimore, the black Episcopalian priest and author who was among the early organizers of the National Organization for Women, and who feels "black women have no alternative but to support ERA fully," was angered and frustrated by the announcement of the sale. "If it is something officially connected with South Africa, then you see clearly the insensitivity," she said.

It's inevitable that there are going to be differences around issues in coalitions, such as the one people are trying to forge between black and white women on the ERA issue. Blacks and Jews took different sides in the Bakke affair, for instance.

But of one thing there can be no difference -- sensitivity to each other. The width of the chasm is a symbol of the uphill struggle ERA faces.

I think this group should return the Krugerrand to the ERA supporter in Cleburne, Tex., who donated it. There's no room for that kind of blood money in this movement.