Attie Arnold sighed and tried to sum up the changes that have left him bewildered and discontent.

"You know, 10 years ago when a black man came into my office I knew he had come either to complain that someone had slapped him or dismissed him unfairly. The problems were basic, simple.

"Five years ago, he comes into my office, but now he's educated, he's got a degree. I don't mean he's civilized; he's got the knowledge, but not our ideas of civilization, of integrity, our ideas of honesty. Things are more difficult."

He paused. And now?

"Now? Now he's a politician; now he's my boss!" he said excitedly.

Arnold is town clerk of Windhoek, a slow-paced town set in a bowl of purplish hills that undulate outward toward the Kalahari Desert. It is the capital of this territory that was seized by South Africa from the Germans in World War I and ever since has been a vast frontier, a sort of Wild West in which South Africans could find elbow room.

About 60 percent of the 100,000 whites living here today are Afrikaans-speaking. For years the mantel of Pretoria's rule has kept these "Sou'westers," as they call themselves, from worrying too much about the international wrangling over this disputed territory. But now, with the stepped-up attention on Namibia, also known as Southwest Africa, at the United Nations and in the West, as well as on the multiracial government Pretoria has set up here in preparation for independence, the future seems uncertain to many whites like Arnold.

Lately, he says he asks himself why he has not already "sold out and gone back to South Africa." Yet after 28 years here where he brought up his three children, he is not eager to return and besides, he does not think South Africa will escape the changes going on in this region.

"Things are going here the same way they went in Zimbabwe and they'll go the same way in South Africa, but it'll take longer there," Arnold said. "One more one-man, one vote election here and the white man is finished. It's a power game, it's a matter of numbers. All a black party has to say to win is 'out with the white man,'" he said.

After that, "I think it'll peter out, like in Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique. Whites will leave and the economy will go down.

"We housed and fed the Portuguese who came from Angola during the civil war in 1975. We asked them, 'Why didn't you stay and fight?' They said it was a hopeless situation. That's how it is, hopeless. We'll stay on for a few more years and then we'll leave too. There'll be indicators." Arnold said.

"But of course," he said slowly, "we could have a third world war and then everything might change."

Kaiser Strasse, clean and tidy, is the main thoroughfare of Windhoek. It is lined with shops selling jewelry of precious stones and ivory and coats of leather, karakul wool from the sheep farms down south and skins from the wild animals in the desert plains. Bookshops, like the menus in restaurants, have three sections -- Afrikaans, German and English.

On Sunday mornings when the town is as quiet as the nearby desert, the strains of violins and the highpitched voices of a children's choir issue from the German Lutheran church on one of the city's hills. Blacks and whites amble on the sidewalks window-shopping.

In the middle of Kaiser Strasse the South African mining conglomerate, Anglo-American, is building a new office complex, apparently a vote of confidence in Nambia's future.

In a nearby office building there used to be the headquarters of the Southwest Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), the guerrilla movement tying down 20,000 South African troops in a bush war in the northern part of the country.

Unlike South Africa, where guerrilla movements fighting government forces have been outlawed for more than 20 years, the South Africa authorities never banned SWAPO in Namibia. They tolerated a politically active "internal wing" of the organization.

But that tolerance seems to have evaporated as the war goes into its 15th year. SWAPO's offices no longer can be found, and the old phone number there now belongs to the government-run radio station.

In 1978 and 1979 most of SWAPO's internal leadership was detained without trial for long periods. After release many of them were restricted to their homes outside of working hours and prohibited from engaging in politics. Although the government did not use the term "banned," their restrictions were essentially the same as those applied to banned black political activists in South Africa. Before these 1979 bannings, only two other SWAPO leaders had been restricted, both of them in the 1960s, according to SWAPO organizer Daniel Tjongorero.

Most of the officials left the country to study abroad or join the war effort in Angola. In 1979 the internal leadership was disbanded and SWAPO's offices closed because of constant police harassment, Tjongorero said.

Despite their lower profile, however, SWAPO activists still occasionally raise their banner. Tjongorero said a rally they held about a month ago in the black township of Katutura drew 5,000 people.

This curtailment of SWAPO activities means that whites get their impressions of the movement only from the government-run media that refer to SWAPO only as a "terrorist" and communist organization and sometimes as "an instrument of Soviet imperialism."

It is hard to escape making a parallel with Zimbabwe, where for seven years whites fought the forces of Robert Mugabe, whom they regarded as a "Marxist terrorist." Today he is their prime minister, and enjoys a degree of respent from many whites for his policies of reconciliation and pragmatic economics.

When reminded of this and of the possible implications for Namibia, one South African Army officer had a ready answer: "One swallow does not a summer make."