This boy we love, This brother. Go to Johannesburg! White man go To Johannesburg -- He come back! Black man go To Johannesburg! Never come back! THOSE WORDS played in my head as I set out for Johannesburg. I was curious and I was excited. I was not afraid, but I was apprehensive. I was black.

Those words are from "Lost in the Stars," the musical based on "Cry the Beloved Country," Alan Paton's elegant novel about South Africa. I had read it when it was a new book, when I was 16, the year my hometown first elected Gerald R. Ford as its representative in Congress. It was a novel of love, sadness, cruelty and blindness, and from that book on, the idea of South Africa was more powerful to me than the idea of any other country. Its racism was enough like our racism to be easily comprehended by every black in America, and yet it was so bloated, so comprehensive, so cruel, selfish and ridiculous as to constitute the ultimate metaphor for white evil -- racism, barbed and unshackled.

South Africa, for me, was the heart of whiteness.

Now I was to see the country for the first time. Reality would intrude upon fantasy. Andy Young chuckled when I asked him what to expect and said that I would be right at home. But Andy is a southerner and I had left the

South Africa, for me, was the heart of whiteness. revolution had settled in and had changed the place. My parents, my children, my sisters and my close friends all know that I don't suffer white arrogance easily or quietly. They had all warned me to be careful; to cool myself out. This boy we love, This brother. Go to Johannesburg! . . . To Johannesburg! Never come back! Never come back!

But I came back. And, if the South African government will let me, I will return to Johannesburg, to Soweto, to KwaZulu, to Pretoria, to Durban, to Kwamashu, to East London and to Capetown again and again. For I learned that I could love South Africa, or at least the Azania that someday it is sure to be. And I am captivated by the liberation struggle there -- a struggle that I think is the most profound human confrontation now occurring. Andy was right. I felt all the rage and love of home and also the profound anguish of watching the peoples of that rich and lovely land moving almost inexorably toward violence, chaos, and, for many of them, doom.

The Bantu Affairs Building at the corner of Jacob Mare and Paul Kruger Streets in Pretoria is where the Honorable Dr. P.G.J. Koornhof works. He is a big man with a rugged, ugly, open and friendly face. Koornhof is a former Rhodes scholar, the father of a Rhodes scholar and the minister of a department that was formerly called Bantu Affairs but is now called the Department of Cooperation and Development -- one of the many instances I saw in South Africa of the Afrikaner belief that changing words changes reality as well. While I was in South Africa, Prime Minister P.W. Botha said that the word apartheid couldn't readily be translated into English, but that "good neighborliness" was the best approximation.

Minister Koornhof is the man who declared at the National Press Club in Washington last year, "Apartheid is dead." Minister Koornhof is the man whom my friends in Soweto call "the man of many promises."

The government has four basic policy goals, according to Koornhof. They are: full equality to all under the law; full participation in the decision-making process; full citizenship rights for all; and full human rights for all, regardless of race, creed or color.

"It is a thrilling period here," Koornhof said. "The time factor is such that the achievement of all of this could occur soon, perhaps in two and a half or three years."

But somehow the thrill shrivels when the minister is asked how much change is really envisaged. I asked him, for example, whether full human rights meant that anybody now restricted to living in Soweto -- and that means any black living around Johannesburg except live-in servants who live apart from their families -- could live anywhere in Johannesburg they could afford. Well, as it turned out, "full" human rights didn't exactly go that far.

"We are groping toward a few gray areas -- zones where anybody can live," the minister said, "but frankly, the issue of where people live is too hard to deal with politically right now. Maybe later."

What about full citizenship rights? Did that mean that any black citizen would have the same right to participate in picking national leadership that any white person had? Well, again, not exactly.

"One man, one vote is out. We mean full participation in the decision-making process," the minister explained. "In a plural society, you need good local government, good regional government, and then the top level of the government will be good."

"I am talking about good regional government," Dr. Koornhof said. "I hate the word 'homelands.' People in Soweto and people in the regions will have full participation in their governments. The government of South Africa has shed more power in the last three years than any other government in the world. The parliament of the Transkei, for example, is equal in power to the parliament in the Republic of South Africa."

The homelands of which the minister spoke are the tribal areas to which the government of South Africa has assigned blacks by tribal origin. No matter where they work, that is their home and once they are no longer employed, that is where they must return. The government's policy is to turn these homelands into "independent" countries. Black South Africans have their citizenship transferred to those "countries" and, for all practical purposes, become stateless, because no country in the world recognizes these bastard creations. Transkei is one of the "independents," poor, pitiful, a stooge of the Republic of South Africa.

The word in Johannesburg just before I left was that the government of Transkei was flat broke and that it had had to apply to the government of South Africa for a loan to pay civil service salaries.

"I'm talking about excellent regional government," Dr. Koornhof said. "And we've got that. We're not talking about one man, one vote. I don't think blacks want it. Buthelezi says it'll never be accepted here."

The test of the government's actual and proposed reforms is a stern one. Quite simply, it is whether they are sufficient to stave off the "bloody revolution" which white South Africans fear so much.

Few people in South Africa expect Prime Minister Botha's government to be able to control fully the process of change that he has set in motion. Whether that process is fast enough or substantive enough will be answered in the minds of black South Africans. One of the most important, subtle and complex of those minds is that of the man mentioned by Dr. Koornhof, Buthelezi.

uMntwana Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi is a hereditary Zulu chief. He is also the chief minister of KwaZulu, a semi-autonomous homeland, for which he persists in declining the full "independence" that Transkei and some other homelands have accepted.

Richard H. Ullman, professor of international relations at Princeton, and I decided that our South African journey would not be complete without a meeting with Buthelezi. Through the intercession of Oscar Dhlomo, secretary general of Inkatha, the "cultural" liberation movement that Buthelezi heads (blacks cannot have political movements so Inkatha is cultural), it was arranged that we would attend a mass meeting of the organization at Greytown, north of Durban, and interview him afterward.

In one of many instances of South African generosity, we were driven to Greytown by a white South African businessman in a new white Mercedes operated by his Indian driver, Roy.

We covered the 60 miles from Durban to Pietermaritzburg more quickly than my mind was prepared for the transition from the urbane Indian-dominated city on the shores of the Indian Ocean to a little English colonial town. In Pietermaritzburg, we saw a group of white boys, about 8 years old, in short gray pants, blue blazers and straw boaters waiting to cross the street. We saw a statue of Queen Victoria, orb and all, standing tall in front of the post office, and the Union Jack blowing freely in the breeze in front of the Union Club.

And then we were on the road again moving through the lush South African countryside. There are no forests here. The fields are cultivated and the greens on the rolling hills are rich and varied, interrupted only by the symmetrical red brown of the newly plowed land and the stands of pine and gum trees. As we hurtled through a straight stretch of road lined on each side by tall, thin wattle trees, I saw a group of black children walking along the road. They were all barefoot and none seemed older than 6. The tallest girl had on a green dress, red clay on her face and a baby bound to her back. The others hopped and waved their arms as they moved along. One little boy lagged behind the rest, scuffing his bare toes in the dirt by the side of the road and pushing a stick that made a long ragged line behind him.

We slowly rolled down a red dirt road through a gathering crowd of black Africans and were waved through by black policemen. Finally, when the crowd grew too thick around the car, Roy stopped in the middle of a field and we stepped out of the Mercedes into the Zulu past and what is sure to be a large part of South Africa's future.

Groups of young people were coming into the sloping field by the side of the valley carrying shields and spears, dancing and chanting. Occasionally, a woman or a group of women would emit high, wavering sounds from deep in their throats -- it is called ululating -- an effort that westerners find impossible to emulate. There were old men, in ancient western clothing, with rheumy eyes and passive, yet expectant, looks on their faces. There was a corps of drum majorettes -- pretty young girls in white berets, white short-sleeved shirts, white gloves, white socks, white sneakers and red miniskirts. And, moving through the swelling crowd that exhibited greater and greater excitement with each group of newcomers, were scores of Inkatha workers in tan uniforms with yellow, green and black epaulets.

When the crowd had reached about 5,000, the ululations increased, a drum beat urgently in the distance and a lone bugle let out a tuneless and haunting wail. Four women in the crowd, their hair caked in red clay and molded into symmetrical bowl-shapes on top of their heads, began ululating and the crowd parted to admit a new, mud-spattered black Mercedes bearing the license plate Z-G 1. The car pulled up in front of the speakers' stand and a tall, dark-brown man in gold-rimmed glasses, a tan leisure suit and a black fez with silver decorations stepped out and waved a 30-inch multicolored swagger stick at the crowd. The crowd roared back, ululated at him, and he grinned at them. a

Buthelezi, who is, in effect, king of the Zulus, looked impassive and wise through all the introductory oratory, including a prayer chanter -- a husky young man in zebra-striped tights and an animal skin -- who chanted at a great rate about the great events and the glories in Buthelezi's life. Ullman and I were introduced but, before I sat down, I was asked to shout "amandla" to the crowd. I did, and to my astonishment the crowd, now swollen to about 7,000, roared back with one voice, "Owetho." I was stunned and my face showed it and Buthelezi and his top aide laughed and explained to me that amandla means "power" and owetho means "to the people."

When it came Buthelezi's turn to speak, he said it was good for Ullman and me to have come to the edge of KwaZulu because most journalists only went to Johannesburg and to Pretoria. He said that the outside world had gotten the impression that the only blacks in South Africa were in Soweto.

"They are not the only blacks in the country," he said, "and they are not the majority. These men have come to see you," he said to his audience, "and I am you."

Seven thousand people listened without a murmur. Even the children, who had been there for four hours, were quiet.

In speaking of various government ploys to pressure him to accept the kind of independence Transkei had, Chief Buthelezi said, "They're mischievous when they do this. They ought to be grateful they've got a nonviolent leader like me. They're playing with dynamite when they try to undermine me -- it may someday blow up in their face. Whites depend on blacks in South Africa as much as blacks depend on whites. They won't hoist us on our own petard.

"I could raise the war cry of the Zulu and march into Greytown and get you shot, but what good will it do? I won't let them goad us into moving at their time -- we'll move at our time. We have our own timetable."

He stressed that he was a nonviolent man, but he would not rule out the possibility of violence.

"I don't agree that if a man is armed that he can beat you in a fight," he said. "If he has a gun in his hand and you let him smack you in the head you are dumb. But maybe you will turn your head and hit him in the back of the head with a stone." There was much laughter and clapping.

In an inverview later, Buthelezi said, "[Former Prime Minister B.J.] Vorster used to say that for a man of nonviolence I surely talked a lot about it. But I'm afraid of violence. I cherish people's lives and, if I see violence coming, of course I'm going to yell about it. Nonviolence is slow. It is hard. The problem is that we have children to educate and people to feed. How are we going to live together? How are we going to have peace together?"

And though he says that Prime Minister Botha ought to be given time to prove the validity of his intentions and that he believes the promises have been made in good faith, Buthelezi becomes passionate about the pass laws and the Group Areas Act, which the proposed reforms do not touch. "If there is any single thing that makes us suffer and stifles us," he said, "it is that we can't move freely. They can't have economic growth and an unfree labor force. cThey can't have their cake and eat it too."

Later, as he was walking us back to our car, Chief Buthelezi and I commented on the similarities in the Zulu faces and so many black faces in America.

"I almost cried the first time I went to Harlem," he said, "when I saw all those faces. Why do you think we asked you to call out amandla?" he asked. "It was our way of welcoming our brother back home."

Dr. Nthato Motlana is a small, wiry man who neither smokes nor drinks. "Food is my passion," he explained. His passion is also the liberation of his country. He has been a black nationalist since his college days and now, in his early fifties, leads the Committee of 10 in Soweto. He wants freedom for blacks as much as Buthelezi does, but he is less sanguine about the government's policies.

For example, while Buthelezi argues against foreign disinvestment, Motlana won't discuss it on the ground that he might get arrested under the security laws if he urged foreign firms to pull their investments out. But it is on the homelands issue that Motlana is most critical of Buthelezi, whom he once called "traitor."

"The government is trying to restrict us to 13 percent of the land and to divide us geographically and tribally," Dr. Motlana claimed. "That way, they get to keep all the good land and to stifle any strong political development as well.

"By accepting semi-autonomy, by accepting government checks to run his area, by cooperating with the government, Buthelezi legitimizes the homelands policy at a time when there should be all kinds of pressure on the government to let blacks achieve unity rather than to continue the fragmentation we have now."

Motlana has the better of the argument. The government is changing, but apartheid is still in place. The government is simply cleaning it up a little bit, partially by dropping the word homeland, and pointing to "excellent regional government" such as that in KwaZulu. And yet, anything perpetuating the government's fantasy that apartheid would be viable is detrimental to the cause of black liberation. But because I liked him so, it made me sad to disagree with my friend Gatsha.

The mountains near Capetown seem covered by soft green velvet crisscrossed by delicate red ribbons. Capetown is dramatic and beautiful against its background of unpredictable, craggy mountains. On Beach Drive, where people live in some of the most expensive apartments in town, you get a lovely view of the Atlantic Ocean, its beaches and Robben Island, where 450 black political prisoners are held.

The Cape Flats is where the Coloreds, the Asians and the blacks are required to live. The houses range from a few large and expensive residences for rich Asians to Crossroads, a black squatter camp that the government tried unsuccessfully to level with bulldozers without providing alternative housing.

I walked around through the dust of Crossroads and looked at the corrugated iron shacks, the hundreds of ill-clad children and the women lining up at the outside water spigots with their buckets. There were shacks stretched endlessly, and bald dirt for front yards. The children, who were friendly, walked barefoot in dust up to their ankles. But their school is illegal and crowded and I wondered how this life would affect their spirits, their visions of themselves and their abilities to cope with the world.

A few days earlier I had sat, over drinks, on the veranda of a grand house in Durban enjoying the warmth of a December evening with a white man -- not an Afrikaner -- who had been generous and warm to me over the previous two days. He turned to me in the glow of the moment and asked if he could ask a personal question. I nodded.

"In your experience, doesn't it seem to you that the black man here in Africa, in America and wherever he is found, lacks something? I mean, doesn't he lack initiative or drive or something?"

I looked at him quietly for a moment and I said to myself, "Nigger, don't you go off now." And when I had quieted the stirrings of rage, sitting there overlooking a manicured lawn and lovely garden that black people tended in the day, I answered soft as the night surrounded us.

"No. An oppressed people learn how to survive and they pass those lessons on to their children and it becomes part of the culture. It is here -- and for a long time, it was in America, and to some extent still is -- required for black people to be, or at least to appear, submissive and to accept the roles that white people prescribe for them. If they don't, the power of the state, the availability of cheap replacement labor or both will break them, at least financially and often in other ways as well. In America there was the rope. Here, there is banning, detention and even death."

I went on, and as I talked, I understood something about South Africa that had eluded me. The question was naive and was asked by a naive man in an out-of-the-way country -- a bumpkin country. South Africa is the most paranoid country in the world. It will not let "Roots" be shown. Ebony magazine was banned until recently. It fears stories from the United States about black success.

As I finished answering that man's question, I told him that there would someday be an explosion in his country if it didn't change radically, because a state cannot forever impose a definition on human beings that determines they are something less than human. His face was blank and his eyes were glazed as I finished and I knew that he hadn't absorbed much of what I had said. For the most part, whites in South Africa do not understand. They believe they are making great changes for which the blacks should be grateful, but they are, in the words of one white South African race relations specialist, "merely messing around in the foothills while there is still Mount Everest to climb." m

Though the government talks ceaselessly about the changes it has made and intends to make and about the death of the old ideology, the heart of apartheid still beats. Separate and unequal living areas are to be retained, the pass laws and the Group Areas Act have not been touched; the citizenship problem that distresses all thoughtful blacks has not been approached and the security laws and the apparatus erected to enforce them are still in place. The iron core of apartheid hasn't been dented, bent or even nicked.

Thus, though some liberal white South Africans plead for an end to drives for disinvestment, the most rigid features of the oppression of blacks continue and many black South Africans are afraid to talk about the issue because they can be prosecuted or detained under the security laws if they do. Under those circumstances, it is impossible to heed the pleas of South Africans of good will and urge an end to pressures to disinvest, thus diminishing the pressure on the government to change.

South Africa needs to change and white South Africans know it. They are afraid of revolution and there is talk around the country about the rage of yound blacks, some of whom are said to be going out of the country for military training and coming back with sophisticated weapons. They know their economy will stagnate under the growing pressure of the black population explosion. They know that foreign capital is needed to give their economy the boost that they believe is essential for stability and the survival of their economic system.

The political and economic factors that cry for rapid movement toward social and economic justice are far greater in South Africa than they ever were in America. Because of those factors, it is possible to envision a rational South African government moving to full social and economic justice before the United States achieves it. And yet the current government is unwilling to give up apartheid. It simply wants to change its name and to clean up its face a little bit. It is unwilling at this stage to even consider the plea of virtually every black I met in the country and convene a conference of all the population groups to begin consideration of a new constitution.

As Chief Buthelezi, who called me his brother, and who is regarded as a moderate by some blacks and a traitor by others, said, "They can't have their cake and eat it too."

Two items appeared in South African newspapers in December, after government spokesmen had been busily proclaiming massive improvements in policies regarding blacks. One reported that a conference on educational opportunities for South African blacks which was to have been held at Harvard was cancelled because the government had refused to issue passports to two distinguished black South African educators.

The second reported that a 17-year-old cousin of Chief Buthelezi's had gone to a police station to explain that he missed a court date because of an examination in school. The young man, Qedi Buthelezi, was detained over the weekend, the story said, and police reported that he had died in custody, "of natural causes."