The young Afrikaner spoke softly but with clipped decisiveness. "We were brought up on a political gospel which we have discovered was a vicious lie," he said.

"Now we have to liberate ourselves. There has to be a redefinition of what it means to be a white Afrikaner living in Africa."

A few years ago it would have been considered ethnic heresy for a member of the strongly conformist Afrikaner community to describe the apartheid ideology devised by successive Afrikaner Nationalist governments in such terms, even here at Stellenbosch University, the most liberal of the community's universities in this little town in the wine-producing region near Cape Town.

The young Afrikaner is part of an emerging wing in the Afrikaner community labeled the "new Nats" by local newspapers. These liberals represent a reverse phenomenon to the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, which is burgeoning on the far right. The two elements illustrate how the once monolithic Afrikaner nationalist movement, which has controlled South Africa for 38 years, is disintegrating into a wide spectrum of different factions.

A measure of nonconformism has always been tolerated at Stellenbosch, but in the past the university's verligtes, as Afrikaner liberals are called, were careful not to break the rules of permitted dissent. The established procedure was to work patiently for the advancement of their ideas within the framework of the Afrikaner nationalist movement and never to go public with any criticism of the leadership.

Now that has changed. At Stellenbosch and elsewhere, dissent has taken on a new boldness. Verligtes are publicly rejecting apartheid and calling Afrikaner nationalism's entire value system into question.

Some have traveled to neighboring black countries to meet exiled leaders of the outlawed African National Congress and talk of their readiness to accept black majority rule. They include journalists and businessmen as well as students, and there are some National Party members of Parliament among them who express views in private that put them to the left of the main liberal opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party.

"The cement is coming out now that the government itself has pronounced apartheid outdated and is committed to moving away from it," said Hermann Giliomee, a leading Afrikaner political scientist.

"The justificatory ideology has been destroyed and there has been no real shift to an alternative ideology. The result is uncertainty in which different sectors of the community are responding in different ways," Giliomee added.

Coinciding with this, Giliomee said, changes in the South African economy have caused class differences within the Afrikaner community to surface.

Rapid urbanization and the growth of industry have caused the government to pay more attention to the cities and less to the Afrikaner farmers. Agricultural subsidies have been cut, threatening many farms.

Government decisions to upgrade black education and remove restrictions on black job advancement have coincided with a sharp economic recession in recent years, putting a squeeze on unskilled white workers, mostly Afrikaners.

The result, said Giliomee, is that while the better educated and economically more secure elements of the Afrikaner community are responding to the new uncertainty by thinking in terms of trying to negotiate a deal with the blacks, what he calls the "disadvantaged one-third" of the Afrikaners feel threatened and are turning to the far right.

The far right consists of four main groups: Andries P. Treurnicht's Conservative Party, which has 17 representatives in the white-dominated Parliament; the more extreme Herstigte National Party led by Jaap Marais, which has one seat; the even more extreme Afrikaner Resistance Movement of Eugene Terre'Blanche, and a counter to the Broederbond secret society called the Afrikaner Volkswag, led by Carel Boshoff, a theology professor and son-in-law of apartheid's chief architect, former prime minister Hendrik F. Verwoerd.

There has been no left-wing breakaway yet, but there is speculation that some of the "new Nats" may split if President Pieter W. Botha continues to postpone political reform. Local analysts say if they do break off, the "new Nats" would join the Progressive Federalists to form a new, broad-based reform party.

Andries van Heerden, political editor of a Johannesburg Afrikaans-language newspaper, Die Vaderland, published an article recently naming 33 National Party members of Parliament as "new Nats." According to van Heerden, some of them believe majority rule is not only inevitable but desirable.

The article caused a flurry of embarrassment in government circles. Die Vaderland's editor, Harald Pakendorf, was forced to resign two weeks ago in what is seen as the start of a campaign by President Botha to contain left-wing dissent.

The best-known of the "new Nats" in Parliament, Wynand Malan, is cautious in his public statements. He was reluctant to commit himself on the issue of black government in a recent interview, but he did say that he would not be "overly concerned" about living under a government in which there was a majority of blacks "so long as it was not by definition a black government" in the sense of being racially committed.

The dissent is most outspoken at Stellenbosch University. A branch of a radical students' organization called Nusas, which is affiliated with the main alliance of black activist movements, the United Democratic Front, has been formed here.

An organization campaigning against military conscription also formed a branch. When the university authorities banned it two weeks ago, 31 members of the academic staff and 500 students signed a petition of protest.

Another group of students defied warnings by President Botha, who is chancellor of the university, and traveled to Zimbabwe in April to meet leaders of the African National Congress. Botha had earlier withdrawn the passports of some members of the group when he heard they planned to visit the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.

It was members of this group who spoke in interviews last week about the need to redefine the Afrikaner's identity and role in a country that appears to be heading slowly but inexorably toward majority rule.

"Thinking students are beginning to grapple with their future prospects as Afrikaners in this country. There is tremendous uncertainty," said Hennie Bester, who is chairman of the university's debating society and one of those who had his passport withdrawn.

"We have no more trust in our so-called leaders," Bester added in an interview. "They have misled us by keeping things from us and by feeding us disinformation. We have decided we must find out the facts for ourselves."

In their quest to do this the group has visited black townships, resettlement camps and the tribal "homelands" set up by the government as black-ruled enclaves. The experience has had a radicalizing effect as the students have seen at first-hand the hardships inflicted by apartheid.

Bester and his friends say they do not themselves feel shame at being Afrikaners. They feel they were caught up in a gigantic deception but have managed to see through it.

"Now we have to liberate ourselves from it," Bester said. "We think Afrikaners have a big role to play in helping to construct a just society."

It is difficult to assess the extent of such views at Stellenbosch. Andre du Toit, a politics professor who is close to the dissident students, said they consist of a core group of about 100, with 100 more in broad support.

"It fluctuates a lot," he added. "On some issues they might get 60 percent support, on others less than 20."

Du Toit said this reflects widespread uncertainty. He said he senses a general mood of confusion mixed with resignation.

"Listening to the conversations in the tearoom in our block," he said, "I get the impression that large numbers of people realize things are going wrong and that the government has lost direction. They sense that black rule is coming but they don't know what to do about it."