Millions of blacks stayed away from their jobs today, bringing South Africa's major cities to a virtual stand-still in commemoration of the 1976 Soweto uprising, while the government imposed stringent new restrictions on news coverage under the country's state of emergency.

The downtown streets of this usually bustling city, South Africa's largest, were all but deserted, and most shops and department stores were either closed or nearly empty. Observers estimated that the one-day, nationwide general strike was at least 90 percent effective among blacks in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and in the capital, Pretoria; 80 percent in Cape Town, and between 30 and 40 percent in Durban.

There were few reports of violence. Soweto, the country's biggest black urban center, looked almost like a ghost town, witnesses said. Most residents stayed indoors to quietly honor the day 10 years ago when police opened fire on black students during a protest march, triggering a year of unrest that presaged the present civil strife, which has claimed more than 1,600 lives in the past two years.

But information about Soweto and other segregated townships was limited severely because of emergency orders issued early this morning by Commissioner of Police Gen. Johan Coetzee. They banned reporters from all black townships and restricted information about police activities to that released by the government.

This story was written under the new press restrictions, and some references to the police have been omitted.

The orders were issued under the nationwide state of emergency that the government imposed last Thursday in anticipation of today's protest strike. They remain in effect indefinitely. Under the emergency, journalists also are forbidden to photograph or record civil unrest or to disseminate "subversive statements."

Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela, was served an order restricting her to her Soweto home between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and prohibiting her from giving press interviews until June 20, according to her lawyer, Ismael Ayob. The action appeared designed to prevent her from appearing in interviews tonight with American television networks.

A spokesperson for the state Bureau for Information, which is the only agency authorized to release information on police conduct, cited the new gag on unauthorized information in refusing to comment on Ayob's statement.

While today was largely peaceful, the government reported that eight blacks were killed in overnight violence, five by other blacks and three by police. That brings to 31 the number of deaths since the emergency began, 21 in attacks by blacks against other blacks, seven by police and three in Saturday night's car-bomb blast in Durban.

It was impossible to confirm these statistics independently because of the new press restrictions. The flow of information also was hampered today because telephones in many townships were out of order for most of the day.

Police also described a shooting incident outside a Cape Town mosque last night in which they used tear gas against worshipers at a service they contended was illegal because of political remarks by speakers. Snipers fired three shots at police from a rooftop and later escaped. Witnesses at the mosque contended that police broke up a peaceful prayer session.

The Johannesburg Star, the country's largest daily newspaper, noted on its front page: "Because of today's even more rigorous clampdown on news reporting, readers should be aware that this issue of The Star has in effect been censored and does not reflect adequately the situation in South Africa."

Information spokesman Leon Mellett conceded that today's strike had been widespread, but he blamed a lack of transportation and "intimidation" by black radicals. Most private bus services did not operate today because their drivers did not report to work, and state-operated commuter trains from the townships ran virtually empty.

Mellett contended that the government's tough new emergency regulations, which allow security forces to carry out searches without warrants and make sweeping arrests, had thwarted plans by militants for large-scale violence.

It is believed that at least 2,000 persons have been detained since the emergency began, although the government refuses to release names or numbers.

Troops and police patrolled many of the country's townships, Mellett said. A group of clergymen who sought to deliver 20 carloads of flowers to Soweto were turned away at a roadblock, according to Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, who said "a sort of sullen peace" prevailed in Soweto.

Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, called the government's ban on commemorative meetings "grossly insensitive and highly provocative" in a sermon at Saint Mary's Anglican Cathedral in downtown Johannesburg. "Surely they are trampling our dignity underfoot."

He said of the authorities, "They seem to be unaware of the law of diminishing returns, that they have to use greater and greater repression for smaller and smaller results . . . ."

Tutu told the mostly white audience of about 500 that he wished they could experience "what the state of emergency means to their black fellow South Africans -- the roadblocks, the military presence, the casspirs (armored personnel carriers), the tear gas, the dogs, the whips, the sheer brutality.

"I hope that you, my fellow white South Africans, won't think things are normal -- especially now that you will not even know what is happening more than ever before -- and that you can afford to play tennis and rugby as happened with the first state of emergency, while the country around you bleeds to death."

Several church services were held in Soweto to commemorate the day, but witnesses said they were sparsely attended because of fears of violence. Two Canadian diplomats who attended Saint Paul's Anglican Church in Soweto said the memorial service ended early after worshipers heard gunfire outside the church.

Despite the ban on political meetings, a clandestine rally was held in a Dutch Reformed Church in Diepkloof, one of Soweto's largest neighborhoods, according to eyewitnesses.

About 500 people attended the rally, which was organized by members of the United Democratic Front, the country's largest antiapartheid coalition. Appearing at the rally were several front leaders who have been in hiding since the emergency was imposed.

The witnesses said the meeting went on for several hours while youths maintained a vigil on neighboring streets to watch for police. Other youths played cat-and-mouse with police, setting ablaze tires at various locations in an effort to distract authorities.

Still others distributed pamphlets in the Meadowlands area of Soweto, calling for support for a rent boycott that began June 1.

A 4-year-old girl was shot in a clash after youths constructed a makeshift barricade on a Meadowlands street, witnesses said. They said another of the injured, an 18-year-old boy shot in the hip, was taken to a nearby house, treated and sent home wearing a woman's dress to conceal his identity and bloodstains from his wound.

An official spokeswoman said tonight that she had no information on any shooting incident.

Some of today's commemorative speeches reflected the deep split in the black community. Zulu Chief Gatcha Buthelezi, speaking at a rally in Durban, warned his followers against militant leaders who wanted to use them "as storm troopers in battles they cannot win . . . They are concerned about their own political glory, and they expect you to pay a terrible price, not only now but for the rest of your lives."

Appearing with Buthelezi, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini called upon South Africa's 6 million Zulus to purge the country of radicals who had committed "hideous atrocities."

Deputy Information Minister Louis Nel accused foreign correspondents of distorting accounts of deaths in the unrest by making it appear that they were all the result of police action, when in fact many blacks have been killed by other blacks.

Nel said the information bureau would "monitor very carefully" news reports on the deaths. Nearly two-thirds of the deaths during the past two years of unrest have been the result of police actions, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations.

Nel also attacked the correspondents for "editorializing" in their news reports.

He singled out a Reuter dispatch yesterday by bureau chief David Rogers that characterized the emergency regulations as "draconian" and called South Africa "riot torn." Such reporting, said Nel, created "a completely false perception."

The government turned down an appeal against the expulsion of a Dutch cameraman working for CBS television, Reuter reported, quoting a Home Affairs Ministry spokesman.

The government last week ordered cameraman Wim de Vos to leave the country but granted him an appeal. The spokesman said that Home Affairs Minister Stoffel Botha had turned down the CBS appeal and that de Vos must leave the country by midnight Tuesday. Special correspondent Allister Sparks contributed to this report.