Violence has erupted once more in many of South Africa's urban black neighborhoods, and it shows signs of spreading.

Black South Africans, like people the world over, struggle with fortitude against adverse circumstances until a sense of hopelessness, of despair, a prospect of suffering stretching indefinitely into the future, arouses their anger. Once anger is aroused, behavior becomes irrational, and when people have little to lose, they may risk much in angry outbursts.

If Americans are concerned about injustice in South Africa, if they are concerned about encouraging democracy here and about South Africa's ability to put its house in order so it can become a source of stability and development for this whole subcontinent, they should recognize that they need to support black leaders and organizations that aim to give people something constructive to do, that not only alleviate immediate suffering but mobilize forces working toward building up the black position at the negotiating table.

Americans need to be aware of the danger of supporting only protest politics, which arouse anger but do not direct it toward achievable goals. I believe that the U.S. State Department has yet to realize that "constructive engagement" in South Africa means more than dealing with the South African government as a recognized government while also visibly identifying with protest politics in some kind of foreign policy balancing act.

During the 1976-78 period of unrest in South Africa, the media in North America and Europe hailed the eruption of violence as constituting a real threat to the status quo, and they applauded protest leaders in the forefront of the violence in black urban areas. What was in fact a predictable eruption in an ongoing volatile situation was seen as a change in the course of events in the country. Those blacks who claimed that apartheid was on the run and that the South African government would soon be toppled were believed, and a great deal of moral support and aid worth millions of dollars flowed into South Africa from North American and European sources.

History has now shown that these hopes were misplaced and that the eruption of violence in 1976-78 caused hardly a hiccup in government programs meant to further entrench apartheid and strengthen the National Party's grasp on the country. Few today would dispute the statement that the South African government is in a less assailable position than it was in 1976. While there were eruptions in black townships creating ripples of excitement around the world, white South Africans remained unperturbed, and the South African government never even had to call out the army and auxiliary services.

Even at the height of the 1976-78 disturbances, and again now, there is no evidence whatever that black township anger can spill across apartheid's black/white boundaries and affect those enjoying the benefits of apartheid. On no occasion then or now have white neighborhoods been threatened; on no occasion then or now have calls for boycotts and work stoppages, which always accompany eruptions of violence, had any material effect on white well- being or on the economy. Black anger then and now feeds upon itself and draws blacks into black-vs.-black confrontations more than it threatens the status quo.

Serious analysts of the South African situation must come to terms with the fact that the South African government is powerful enough, and white South Africa is protected enough, to enable the status quo to withstand onslaught after onslaught of the kind I am discussing, without entertaining any serious need to capitulate to black demands.

Violent confrontations are not geared to bringing the South African government to the negotiating table. They are geared to reducing the country to an ungovernable condition and to bringing about the downfall of the National Party in circumstances that would lead to the formation of a government for the majority.

However justified that goal is, and whatever rights the South African majority, who happen to be black, do have to form the government, history has by now surely taught us that violence that can be contained by measures involving nothing more than mobilization of the ordinary police force does not really threaten the status quo and perhaps only acts as a safety valve for apartheid.

Those who made the wrong assessment of the South African situation in 1976-78 show all the signs of making the same mistakes now, and the real tragedy we face is that the widespread violence, loss of black life and limb and destruction of black property will be to no avail.

I say these things as a black, deeply angered at the inhumanity of apartheid and its terrible injustices. I say these things not because I reject black anger, not because I do not understand violent reactions to our oppression, and not because I do not sympathize with those who are angry. I say them because history has taught that anger is black South Africa's greatest asset -- an asset that we simply cannot afford to waste. Black anger must be directed toward constructive, achievable goals. It must not be squandered on the streets of our townships in black-vs.-black confrontations.

South African history should by now have taught all of us that the country's 22 million blacks must face the fact that they have two clear-cut alternatives. One is to mount an armed struggle and literally go to war against apartheid. The other is to bring about radical changes inside the country through the process of democratic opposition to apartheid and through the politics of negotiation.

History has taught me that the South African situation differs radically from situations in which the people of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola found themselves. History has taught me that it is no more than a myth to believe that the African National Congress' Mission in Exile will mount the kind of armed struggle against apartheid that will lead to the South African government's having to capitulate as the white governments in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola had to capitulate.

The circumstances in South Africa are radically different. If change is ever achieved in South Africa through violence, we will find that the foundations of the future will have been destroyed in the course of liberating the country. We have the choice of whether or not to employ that degree of violence. There are, in fact, many who have made this choice and who believe the country must be reduced to ashes so that a new start can one day be made. I understand the anger that leads to this kind of desperation, but I reject it, and the vast majority of black South Africans reject it.

I do not believe we have to destroy the foundations of the future in order to bring about radical change. I believe ways and means can be found to build up black bargaining power to force whites to the negotiating table.

I am not alone in holding this view: it is endorsed by millions of black South Africans. For the vast majority of blacks, the struggle has always been for inclusion in the existing South Africa; it has always been a struggle to transform the state rather than destroy and rebuild it.

Inkatha, the organization I lead, solidly supports these principles. It now has a card-carrying membership of close to a million members, which makes it the largest black constituency ever to have been formed in the country. Inkatha emerged as a political force in the 1976-78 disruptions. It was formed as an expression of black anger, and it has not only survived the tough years since 1976, but each year it has grown in strength.

Americans need to understand that because black South Africans are faced with polar opposite choices between the negotiating table and the employment of violence, and because there is no easy victory in either choice, disputes rage about what should be done.

Inkatha is involved in this debate precisely because it is in the heart of black political gravity. The virulence of some of the attacks against Inkatha is motivated by the recognition of its wide appeal and inherent power. Those who seek the politics of confrontation cannot afford to see the living evidence in Inkatha that the majority of black South Africans seek negotiation before confrontation, and seek to solve the country's problems through democratic opposition.

Inkatha has never campaigned in the West for support against other black organizations. It has simply campaigned for support of those things which it does that can be judged by the West to be positive.

Inkatha is committed to the politics of negotiation; so is the West. Inkatha is committed to doing everything that can be done to avoid violent confrontations in the country; so is the West. Inkatha is committed to bringing about radical change without destroying the foundations of the future, and this is a commitment that the West too should support. Inkatha recognizes that political changes that do not bring about better living conditions for the majority of people are worthless. The West should agree with this.

Inkatha believes that no matter what happens in the political sphere, South Africa will fall more naturally into the Western sphere of influence than it does elsewhere. Inkatha is therefore also committed to liberalizing the free-enterprise system in the country and to utilizing it as the most powerful system with which to generate the high sustained growth that radical change demands.

In this recognition and commitment, the West must be at one with Inkatha. Inkatha does not participate in Western politics to become a political football between major political parties vying for the right to form governments. Inkatha relates to all Western governments. Laborites, Liberals and Christian Democrats in Europe, as well as Democrats, Republicans and Liberals in North America should participate alike in an ongoing Western/South African relationship. Inkatha seeks to make no enemies in the West; it seeks alliances with all international forces that could exercise a positive influence on the South African government.

Inkatha's commitment to black unity based on a multi-strategy approach, and Inkatha's recognition that no single black organization will ever liberate South Africa, is a black South African commitment, the magnitude of which, measured in terms of Inkatha's membership, should command both respect and the willingness to enter into working relationships with it.

When Americans are witness to the eruption of violence in black South Africa, and disputes about strategy and tactics between black organizations, the last thing they should do is to enter the fray as partisan to one or another faction.

Inkatha would reject European and North American alliances that sought to side with it against other black South African organizations. There is a very real need to put the objectives of the South African struggle for liberation, and the question of tactics and strategies, above party politics. Every black organization has a role to play on the broad front on which the struggle in South Africa must be waged. There is something positive to support in the programs that every black political group in the country pursues. My plea is for Americans, and the West generally, to support the positive things in South Africa that accord with civilized standards and objectives, and that do not conflict with national and international interests.