VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II plans to visit a number of southern African countries next year but South Africa probably will not be among them, an authoritative Vatican source said this week.

The source said current plans called for the pope to visit Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in September 1988. This month Vatican Radio broadcast a report from South Africa that quoted Bishop Wilfred Napier of Kokstad as saying the time was not opportune for a papal trip to South Africa, where about 8 percent of the population is Catholic.

The pope has strongly condemned the country's apartheid policy, notably in 1985 on the eve of his third trip to Africa. In 1984, shortly after the pope granted a controversial audience to then Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha and Foreign Minister Roelof (Pik) Botha, the Vatican issued a statement that included a stinging denunciation of apartheid.

At that time, South African diplomatic sources traveling with the officials said Pretoria would be willing to invite the pope if he planned to visit the region.

Another point of discord is Namibia (South-West Africa), which Pretoria rules in defiance of a United Nations resolution. The pope has called for independence for Namibia several times.