What is happening in South Africa?

South Africa is in transformation and searching for a framework for political participation by all its people, including blacks.

Even though this political transformation is taking place in a society with a history so different from that of the United States -- and at a pace that cannot match the speed with which fundamental social and political alterations are experienced, and indeed expected, here -- Americans do understand the need for peaceful, rather than violent revolutionary change.

Unless there is an understanding of the complexity of the South African situation and support for the common sense of a step-by-step approach, there is the great risk of bringing about the misery that is even now afflicting other nations on our continent, or the totalitarianism that has turned into a hoax the individual's hope for a better life. It is even more important to replace myth and misconception with facts.

When the present situation is contrasted with that of only a few years ago, the magnitude of change is clear.

This year Colored and Indian South Africans entered the Parliament and the Cabinet for the first time -- a development supported in a referendum by an overwhelming white majority.

Four black nations have already, through referendum and election, exercised their right of self-determination and acquired independence from South African administration.

The other black nations exercise autonomous rule over their own affairs, and the South African government has entered into consultation with a wide spectrum of black leadership to work out a framework for political participation by urban blacks.

Opportunities for urban black participation in local government are being broadened.

Dramatic upgrading of black education has occurred. Two statistics are particularly revealing: From 1970 to 1980, the number of black high school students jumped from 105,000 to 550,000, and blacks' share of total personal income rose from 25 percent to 40 percent, while the white share dropped from 75 percent to 60 percent.

In short, things are changing, and for the better.

Unlike other government programs, the education budget was not curtailed in the most recent budgetary provisions. For the first time it exceeded that for defense in 1983-84. Urban blacks have acquired home ownership.

Job reservation for particular racial groups has disappeared. Blacks have the right to establish their own trade unions and/or join unions of other racial groups.

There is equal pay for equal work.

While many parts of Africa are dying economically and experiencing starvation, South Africa is providing employment to more than a million workers from other African countries, many of whom have entered South Africa illegally.

South Africa's new constitution, giving persons of mixed race and Indians the vote, is faulted on the ground that South Africa ignores and has no intention of providing further political rights for blacks. To accept this is to ignore the explicit words of South Africa's president, P. W. Botha, who, as recently as Sept. 18, said "we realize that the constitution does not provide fully for the diversity which marks the South African population," and he announced that political participation should be extended to blacks in order to meet their demands for justice.

In short, South Africa is working for evolutionary change without destroying that which has been built up in the past. It is striving to bring about the kind of economic and social prog that will secure for families of all races their dream of a better life. It cannot succumb to the kind of terror and intimidation illustrated in The Post's story of Nov. 14, which told of a black family's being burned to death by a fire bomb to punish them for not participating in a protest strike, and of dozens of other blacks killed by militants for not siding with them. Nor can it agree with those who want to stop reform and preserve exclusive white control.

The moderates are following the road of cooperation, tolerance and understanding. Those of us who have chosen this road will share the hardships which we are bound to experience as the price for peace and stability.

In southern Africa we have come to realize that economic and geographic imperatives outweigh political differences. It is ironic that while we progress in this peaceful direction in the interest of all the people of the subcontinent, efforts should be made and propagated to impede the process.