Five nights this week Peggy Cooper Cafritz had the same dream: She was pacing alone up and down Massachusetts Avenue, the only person to show up for a Mother's Day protest she had organized against South African apartheid.

But in reality yesterday, Cafritz had the company she wanted. About 250 men and women, some pushing strollers or leading toddlers, circled the sidewalk a block down from the South African Embassy for about an hour in the first major demonstration there since late November.

Julie Barnet came with her mother, Ann, a doctor at Children's Hospital with whom she agrees on most things, at least on Mother's Day. Ann Barnet's mother, although not at the protest, was also in agreement: "I called my mother," said Ann Barnet, "and she said, 'Oh yes, I read the notice on the church bulletin board . . . . Have a good time.' " Ann Barnet was arrested along with 13 other protesters on a misdemeanor charge of demonstrating outside an embassy.

William F. McSweeny marched in a beige sports coat and pants. During the week he is vice president of Occidental Petroleum Corp., "but I'm not with them today," he said, stepping into line behind a woman carrying a child.

For a year, the daily Embassy Row event drew chanting protesters who often were carried off in police wagons.

But in November, after 3,046 arrests, the organizer of the protests switched tactics. TransAfrica, a Washington-based lobbying group, decided to demonstrate at corporate offices of firms doing business with South Africa and focus on Congress in hopes of winning economic sanctions against the South African government.

The group is also seeking to ban aid to Pretoria-backed rebels who are fighting to overthrow the nearby Marxist government of Angola.

In particular, the group has zeroed in on the Royal Dutch Shell group, which carries on a substantial oil business in South Africa. Randall Robinson, director of TransAfrica, said the group is planning another protest Wednesday at the Connecticut Avenue office of Shell Oil Co., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell.

The group's organizers, however, saw the Mother's Day protest at the embassy as carrying on a fledgling tradition. Cafritz, D.C.'s commissioner of arts and humanities, began the protest last year "in gratitude" for the birth of her son, conceived through in-vitro fertilization. She told the group yesterday that the protest would be held annually "until there are no people lacking freedom anywhere."

Fran Cohen, 34, helped make this year's demonstration slightly bigger than last year's. She also learned what it was like to have her hands bound behind her by a police cord. If her arrest is handled like the arrests of previous protesters, the charges will be dropped and her record cleared.

Cohen took the time just before her arrest to reassure her 9-year-old son, who locked his arms around her waist. "I'll be back soon," she promised.