In South Africa it is the black man who bears the burden -- not just the burden of repression at the hands of the white government, but also the burden of proving his openmindedness and unending patience where that government's obdurate resistance to lessening the repression is concerned. "No hard feelings, fellows," he is expected to say. "Take your time. Do it your way. No big deal." Increasingly a number of people on the outside have taken to discussing current relations between whites and blacks in South Africa as if they were dealing with two equally intractable parties to a tiresome labor dispute or a fight over car- accident insurance.

It is forgotten that one of the parties to this dispute -- the South African government -- is committing a terrible, continuing crime against the other. The blacks are merely calling on it to stop perpetrating that crime now. The white government says it may consider leaving off doing some of the things it is doing in good time, but only if its victims behave a certain way first.

These victims must, for instance, vow not to resist the injustices inflicted upon them; they must forswear not only violence, but also nonviolent civil disobedience (of the kind that peacefully desegregated lunch counters and other institutions in the American South). Then they must come along to meetings at the behest of the government, on the government's timetable and with those whom the government sees fit to include as their spokesmen and bargainers. They are, in other words, to enter on these chancy negotiations stripped of as much dignity as the government can manage. It is all to be done at the white government's convenience.

Apparently -- and incredibly -- there are those in our own government who believe that Bishop Desmond Tutu, having been rebuffed in his quest for a one-on-one meeting with President Botha, was wrong to refuse the request that he simply turn up with a scheduled group of other clerics whom Mr. Botha was seeing three weeks later (to no avail, as it turned out). The word out of the White House and State Department both, though strangled as increasingly these pronouncements are coming to be, carried a strong hint of reproach: Gosh, there were those white folks good enough at last to let him in the door and Desmond Tutu goes and gets picky about when and where and how he will talk. The nerve . . .

Within our government and elsewhere over the past few days a gigantic effort has been made to find benign meaning in the grating, uncharitable text of President Botha's address to his Durban constituents last week. Some of the consolation they have drawn from that speech required a kind of English 211a reading of the text, a search for ambiguities and allusions that probably aren't even there. But the point is that even if they are what the search has yielded up is pitiful. More precisely, it is insulting. Maybe, the government is said to be hinting, if you are extremely good girls and boys and do it our way, we will in time talk with you or those of you we feel like talking with about loosening a shackle or two.

Forgive us -- we don't think Desmond Tutu is the one who needs the public reprimand.