President Carter, in another gesture in his overseas human rights drive, met yesterday at the White House with South Africa's most prominent tribal leader, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who was in the United States on a speaking tour.

Buthelezi said it was the first official meeting between a U.S. President and South African black leader. He said the White House session, which was initiated by Carter, "underlines his commitment to human rights" and "will be most appreciated by people in South Africa."

Considered a leading opponent of apartheid and an advocated of majority rule through a peaceful process. Buthelezi is chief executive counselor of the legislative assebmly of the Kwa-Zulu tribe and the direct descendent of 10 generations of Zulu kings. The Zulu is the most populous tribal group in South Africa.

The South Africa leader as among those who met then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in Africa last year. On his current u.S. trip he met U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Schaufele Jr., but was surprised by the sudden invitation to see Carter yesterday morning.

White House officials said the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes, was a general discussion of issue related to South Africa. Buthelezi said he thanked Carter for his commitment to human rights and that Carter had "some goos about things to say" about some of Buthelezi's positions.

Buthelezi said he believes the only hope of a peaceful transition to majority rule in South Africa is for the United States to exert greater pressure on the Vorster government to reach a peaceful accommodation with blacks. During his political campaign last fall, Carter called for the United States to use its influence, primarily in the economic field, to encourage a transition to majority rule.

A commentary Friday on Johannesburg's state radio called for the Carter administration "to do some serious rethinking" about freedom and human rights in South Africa.

It claimed that "there is more freedom in South Africa than in any other African country except one." (The one cited is Botswana.)

The application of a one-man-one vote principle in South Africa would kindle "the flame of destruction" rather than "the flame of freedom," the commentary said.