Two and half years after independence, the strife and bitterness that initially marred relations between whites and blacks here in Mozambique has mostly gone. For the 20,000 to 25,000 new and old Portuguese now living here, a new, more peaceful era in race relations seems to be dawning.

The sight of whites mingling easily with blacks and mixed-blood Mesticos in the bars, restaurants and even many homes in Maputo is a common one. Even the once exclusive Polana Hotel serves afternoon tea and cakes indiscriminately to chic Portuguese women wearing the latest fashions and to imply dressed black Mozambicans.

In addition to the highly visible community of Mesticos , there is a surprisingly large number of "white Mozambicans," Indeed, the new high society of independent Mozambique is becoming a broad mixture of races including even a small number of highly influential Indian Goans.

Indicative of this emerging detente, President Samora Machel went out of his way to hail and sometimes warmly embrace a few whites standing in the crowd at celebrations the other day marking the end of the country's first elections.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese embassy reports that relations between the two countries are settling down, and that cooperation agreements are being signed in various fields beginning with education and medicine.

After trying its luck with non-Portuguese speaking outsiders, the Mozambican government is turning back to Portugal to recruit thousands of badly needed teachers, doctors, civil servants and technicians.

At first, it seemed things might go the other way. Indeed, the history of race relations in independant Mozambique has had its ups and downs, as might be expected after a 10-year-long war between the African population of 10 million and Portugal's colonial army.

Making matters worse, there was an abortive white right-wing coup that touched off a brief black revolt just nine months before independence. Several hundred persons, mostly blacks but also a scattering of whites, were killed, engendering fears of the worst on both sides.

But Mozambique has been spared the kind of nationalist strife that is tearing the fabric of society in Portugal's other main former colony, Angola.

There was no civil war among rival black nationalist factions serving to stir racial hatred here as occurred in Angola, and the ruling Front for The Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) Party has made it clear in word and deed that the "new Mozambique" is open to all white Portuguese willing to abide by its radical Socialist policies. Not all the Portuguese, however, were willing to stay.

In fact, most of the 200,000 Portuguese of the old colony, the so-called "old Portuguese," have all but vanished from the country, leaving behind thousands of deserted farms, factories, villas and in some cases virtually entire inland farm towns.

The Portuguese embassy here now estimates that only 13,000 to 15,000 old Portuguese remain today, with their numbers still dwindling. Traveling through northern Mozambique today a visitor still finds small groups of Portuguese in towns like Nampula and Nacala and occasionally a white truck driver or village shopkeeper. But most back country farm towns are now without a single Portuguese.

It is the "retornados" who have spread horro stories upon arriving back in Portual about the mistreatment or harassment of whites by the new Frelimo government. It appears from various accounts that there was justification for at least some of these tales, since Frelimo officials now admit that some Mozambicans were "drunk with independence" and misbehaved at first.

Some Portuguese were held in Mozambique's "reeducation camps" where living conditions were tough and authorities often aribitary. But the practice of sending Portuguese or other whites to these camps has now become rare, Portuguese embassy officals say.

If mistakes were made at times, as Frelimo officials concede, there were also good reasons at other times for the governmental suspicion of the Portuguese. It became practically a "national sport" among the old Portuguese to figure out illegal ways to get their money out of the country and many acts of economic sabotage have been convincingly documented in the local media.

In addition, some Portuguese scarcely hid their sympathy for the small clandestine opposition that still operates today out of Rhodesia, occassionally sending armed guerillas into northern Mozambique.

But the most bitter pages in the history of post-independence race relations have now been turned and there is a community of "new Portuguese" developing here alongside the white Mozambicans.

The new Portuguese are a strange combination of long-haired, bearded radicals and straitlaced technicians and civil servants here on one or two-year contracts to help the government. Together, they number in the several thousands with more coming all the time.

There was concern last spring that a thousand or more of these Portuguese contract workers would leave en masse in June and that the country's technical services would halt. Hundreds did leave, but many others renewed their contracts and services have not suffered as badly as was feared.

Among the long-haired radicals are former Communist exiles from Gen. Salazar's Portugal who have come to Mozambique to help build what they hope will be Africa's first authentic Marxist state. But some of them seem confused by the new Mozambique.

"It is very difficult to make an analysis of what is happening here," said a former exile. "It is very confusing but I want to stay on for at least one more year to see where the country ends up."

Although extreme leftist Portuguese elements were implicated in the attempted coup by black nationalists in Angola last June, there is no sign so far of any discord between these Portuguese radicals and the Frelimo government. But the government is said to have shifted its recruitment policy somewhat to rely less on the Portuguese Communist Party for advisers and civil servants and more on official Portuguese.

By far the most interesting Europeans here are the "white Mozambicans," those born in the country who opted during the first 90 days of independence to remain Mozambican rather than take out Portuguese citizenship. No one seems to know how many there are, but one estimate is that as many as 5,000 to 7,000 Portuguese fall into this category.

Young White Mozambicans tell of dramatic scenes at the time of independence when weeping parents pleaded in vain with their children to return with them to Portugal.

"In some cases, the children ran away and hid with friends and then sent messages through the newspapers to their parents that they were alive and well but determined to remain here," said one young Mozambican white.

Later, as many as 5,000 white Mozambicans had a change of heart and reverted to Portuguese citizenship, allowing them, among other things, to remit 35 to 50 per cent of their salaries to Portugal.These turncoats understandably infuriated the Frelimo government and last March it ordered all of them out of the country within 60 days.

But, as is so often the case here, the order was interpreted with discretion and nearly 1,000 of these turncoats were allowed to stay because they had indispensable technical skills.

Meanwhile, white Mozambicans say there is a list at the Mozambican embassy in Lisbon of about 4,000 Portuguese wanting to come here to work. Some, they say, are even members of the "old" Portuguese who have found no job in Portugal and are nostalgic for the land of their birth.