Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, was arrested at her house here today for defying a restriction order that prohibited her from living in the Soweto area.

The government issued a new restriction order yesterday allowing Mandela to live anywhere in South Africa except the Johannesburg area, which includes this black township. She was forcibly evicted by police yesterday and taken to an airport hotel beyond the city limits. She did not check into the room the government had reserved for her, however, and returned to Soweto early this morning.

A dozen armed security policemen swept into the house shortly before noon today as this reporter was interviewing Mandela in the parlor. A struggle followed between the police of the white-minority government and the wife of a black nationalist leader: two symbols of the opposing forces in South Africa's intensifying racial conflict.

Mandela eventually was taken away in a convoy of police cars, and the journalists present were arrested under a decree preventing their presence in this township without permission.

Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, predicted that Mandela's arrest would worsen South Africa's image abroad and increase black anger within the country, the opposite of what were thought to be the government's intentions.

Today's confrontation reeled through the small brick house as Mandela refused to go with the police voluntarily. Sounds of bodies crashing against furniture came from the parlor, then from the adjoining kitchen. Mandela seemed to break free from her captors, and, shouting that she wanted to change her clothes before leaving, burst into the bedroom -- where this reporter had taken refuge -- and locked the door.

A police officer hit the door, apparently with his shoulder, and shouted: "You are coming with me now!" As the door began splintering, Mandela opened it and the police came in. I was then arrested.

Mandela was taken to a police station in Krugersdorp, a town 40 minutes' drive away, where police later confirmed that she was locked in a cell.

Her lawyer, Akhbar Ayob, told reporters that he would not know details of the charges until Monday, but police sources said Mandela would be charged with violating the new restriction order, which carries a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment.

This reporter and five other correspondents, meanwhile, were driven to a police station in Soweto, where names were taken. The reporters then were released. A spokesman at police headquarters in Pretoria said later that the journalists would be charged under emergency regulations promulgated last July, which provide for a penalty of up to 10 years in jail or an $8,000 fine, or both.

Mandela, 49, had been defying a stringent banishment order confining her to the remote village of Brandfort, 250 miles south of Johannesburg, after her house there was destroyed in a gasoline-bomb attack four months ago.

"It seems the government are their own worst enemies," Tutu said later in an interview. "They are past masters at tripping over themselves. What would it have cost, would it have been any skin off their noses, if they just lifted her banning order?

"Instead, they say they are easing its conditions. They say to her, 'You are free as long as you don't go to your own house.' It's crazy!" Tutu added.

Mandela said in the interview today that she had refused to comply with the new restriction order because she blamed the authorities for the gasoline-bomb attack on her house in Brandfort.

Having survived an attempt on her life in a place to which she had been confined by executive order, she said she was unwilling to place herself in such a vulnerable situation again.

"I told the police when they called yesterday that they had tried to kill me in their version of a prison, and I was not going to help them try again. I would refuse to collaborate in my own suicide," Mandela said.

"When they said they would have to remove me by force, I told them it was ironic the government should demand that Nelson renounce the use of violence while it was prepared to bring violence into his own home," Mandela said.

This was a reference to repeated statements by Pretoria that it would release Nelson Mandela, who is serving a life term in prison for plotting the overthrow of white-minority rule, if he renounced his outlawed African National Congress' commitment to trying to achieve this by violence.

Winnie Mandela said that in yesterday's encounter, the police removed her forcibly from the house and loaded her into a police car, injuring her leg as they did so. She showed a heavily bandaged ankle, which she said was dressed by a doctor last night.

Mandela said she was driven to an airport hotel, where the police had booked a room for her, but she refused to check in after the police dropped her there.

Instead, Mandela said, black porters at the hotel gave her money for a train ticket, then drove her in a hotel car to a nearby station.

"The solidarity and warmth I was shown by those hotel workers was inspiring," Mandela said.

She did not take a train, however. The police who had dropped her at the hotel were waiting at the station, Mandela said. But at that moment her daughter Zinzi arrived at the station with a car, and they left together.

Mandela stayed with friends in an Asian township called Laudium, near Pretoria, she said, then early this morning returned to her Soweto house.

The reporters were arrested under a decree promulgated two months ago that restricts their entry into black townships in districts where a state of emergency has been declared, or wherever else police regard an "unrest situation" to have arisen.

Television teams and photographers are automatically barred from such areas, while newspaper journalists may enter them only with the written permission of the local police chief.

Government spokesmen have insisted that the restrictions are not meant to limit press coverage but only to prevent the presence of journalists, especially television cameramen, from inciting rioters.

There have been strenuous denials that the restrictions are motivated by a desire to curb the press or to curb publicity that South Africa has been getting during the past 16 months of racial conflict in which more than 950 blacks have died.

Newspaper reporters have found that in practice they rarely are given permission to enter the restricted areas, or when permission is given it may take several days.

Because of the difficulty of obtaining permission, many local and foreign reporters have gone to the scene of major news events -- such as today's -- without authority. More than a dozen have been arrested so far.

In an ironic twist, the media restrictions do not apply to black reporters, the apparent reasoning being that they cannot be excluded from areas where they are required by law to live.

Several black reporters and cameramen, including one television crew, were allowed to remain outside Mandela's house photographing her arrest today while the whites were arrested and taken away.