The taxi was clearly marked "for whites only." But sitting in the back was a black passenger, being driven by another black.

The sign outside a Windhoek spa warned, "rights of admission reserved" - one of the more subtle indications of segregation - but inside all races splashed together in the mineral baths.

Above the main post office entrance, a sign noted, "Europeans only," but inside, black, brown and white lined up together for stamps.

These signs have obviously not caught up with the times in Namibia. As the disputed Southwest African territory that is administered by South Africa approaches independence, 57 years of apartheld are melting away.

It is a slow and awkward transition. No one is sure what he can do or how far he can go. Legally, Namibia is in a twilight zone.

Blacks and white dance cheek-to-cheek in nightclubs in the capital, now that doors have been opened to all races and now that most people are accepting impending multi-racialism. But the Immorality Act and Mixed Marriages Act are still in force.

Toilets at restaurants and hotels are open to anyone, while the lavatories at railway stations and government buildings are still segregated.

In one of the most peculiar moves, any race can now buy farmland in what used to be the whites-only sector. But in the towns, blacks and whites are still strictly segregated into their respective areas. While blacks no longer need government permits to move from their poor outlying townships to the "white" cities, whites still need permits to enter black areas.

In the state of political limbo, Namibia's 852,000 residents all know independence is around the corner. But they do not know precisely when it will come, what type of government they will have, or who will lead.

The United Nations, South Africa and the West have taken the matter almost completely out of their hands for now.

A year ago things looked different. Delegates from each of Namibia's 11 ethnic groups - one white, two colored (mixed race) and eight black - sat around a coffin-shaped table in a former gymnastics hall called Turnhalle and worked out a formula for independence from South Africa, which has administered the former German colony since a League of Nations mandate after World War 1.

They were not able to overcome one obstacle: how to find a formula to satisfy the militant Southwest African Peoples Organization (SWAPO), which has been waging a feeble, but widely recognized "war of liberation" along the northern border. SWAPO has the backing of the United Nations and Organization of African Unity, and no formula would finally settle the 57-year-old dispute in international eyes without SWAPO.

So five Western nations - the United States, France, West Germany, Canada and Britain - stepped in to bridge the gap. Since spring they have been negotiating with both South Africa and SWAPO.

The Western solution, still incomplete, includes an election, with candidates from SWAPO, the Turnhalle group and other smaller parties. The winners would then sit down, once again, to work out a formula, in the form of a constitution, for independence.

Until all the negotiations are over, Namibia waits. In the meantime, whites, about 12 per cent of the population, are struggling to find out if there will be a place for them in a majority-rule government.

The West German consulate has been flooded with applications from the estimated 25,000 German community - almost one-third of the whites - for new or updated passports.

This is just in case, they usually say, Namibia becomes "another Angola," the neighboring state where more than 200,000 Portuguese fled out of fear of the new Marxist government.

The black market reportedly is thriving as white businessmen attempt to build up foreign currency holdings accounts, again, just in case. The real estate market is weak, but so far there has been no significant emigration. Most whites are South African citizens and could easily move to the neighboring republic. But most, at this point, say they want to give Namibia a try.

The blacks are getting anxious for the big changes to come. Besides the minor new "rights" the transition has brought, life has not changed much. In Windhoek, blacks are still confined to Katatura, the desolate township of row after row of matchbox houses lining treeless, dusty streets. Their children still go to blacks-only schools. Their illnesses are treated at the blacks-only hospital.

Although the policy now is equal pay for equal work, few Africans have been elevated to high-ranking positions. Their annual income averages just over $300, while whites average more than $5,000.

"How do you think I feel, taking the bus into the white part of town, when I know I could be living there, that it's as good as mine now?" a young African clerk asked. "It's frustrating as hell."

But the attitude generally is more hopeful. A young Rhodesian pilot, Mike Gardener, immigrated from Salisbury earlier this year. "Somehow I think whites will have a chance here," he said. "Race relations are still healthy in Southwest. Whites don't have a prayer in Rhodesia and I want a stable future."