Three months after imposing emergency rule on parts of South Africa, the minority white government has extended it to new parts. Thus are blacks and other nonwhite citizens being made to pay a further price for the failure of white policy. The extension is a cruelty. It is also a confession of failure. Nothing in the three-month record indicates that repression serves the current or long-term needs of the white community. On the contrary, the period has seen, in addition to the death of hundreds of blacks, a number of white "firsts": the first riots in the white business districts of Johannesburg and Cape Town, the first white soldier killed policing a black township. The price for whites is going up too.

Emergency rule produced an economic calamity that nobody had foreseen. The emegency panicked South Africa's business-minded foreign creditors, shredding the country's creditworthiness and creating in one swoop a financial crisis greater than any that critics of apartheid had thought they could bring about by the application of political pressure. Extension of emergency rule deepens and advertises the uncertainty that most exercises bankers.

The emergency has also seen an extension of South Africa's international self-isolation. Ronald Reagan, whom the regime had counted on to understand both its difficulties and its manner of treating them, was moved to support the beginnings of official American sanctions. President P. W. Botha apparently feels misunderstood and abandoned: he has denounced Mr. Reagan by name for -- are you ready? -- "shoving (American) Indians into reservations." One wonders whether this expression of pique actually represents Mr. Botha's understanding of the American scene.

The regime imposed emergency rule not simply to keep order but ostensibly to advance "reform" at its own pace. Mr. Botha has dangled hints of political change that, in other circumstances, would have drawn some attention, at least as evidence of possible good faith. Police rule, however, undercut whatever benefits Mr. Botha might have been reaching for. His hints were denounced or ignored. Some whites sought to force the political pace by meeting outside the country with the underground nationalist African National Congress, and were promptly tarred and repudiated. Black opinion in the streets and the townships moved even further away from a position where "moderate" black leaders feel that they can represent it.

Perhaps Mr. Botha, in meeting protest with more repression, has a method that no one can perceive. Otherwise, he is taking South Africa -- blacks and whites -- down a one-way road of tension and violence.