She was dressed for the occasion in a black suit with an emerald green blouse and a jaunty black Spanish sombrero. In the modest ghetto church, she cut a dashing figure. Heads turned. People nodded in recognition of the best-known inhabitant of this township south of Johannesburg.

The minister, the Rev. David Nkwe, addressed Winnie Mandela, wife of imprisoned African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, as "the mother of the nation," recounted her recent tribulations and asked her to stand and receive the acknowledgments of the congregation.

It is skirting the fringes of the state of emergency rules restricting press coverage to report that as she did this, she raised her fist in the black nationalist salute and that it drew responding cries of "Amandla!," the evocative chant of the activists that means power to the blacks.

More of that and the ceremony might have ceased to qualify under the emergency regulations as a "bona fide" church service and everyone there been subject to instant arrest, as has happened several times to church congregations over the past week.

St. Paul's Anglican Church, where Mandela worships frequently, is a very modest temple. It is round and painted in cream and a startling pink. A sheet of paper stuck to the wall bears a handwritten "Prayer for Peace" with a couplet that says: "Lead me from war to peace, from hate to love . . . "

There is no organ or any other instrument. None is required. The harmonizing of African voices provides its own accompaniment, and sometimes the singers beat time with their hymn books against their palms. There is a harmonizing of cultures, too, as the throb of African rhythms intermixes with the plainchant of Anglican high church.

The intensity of faith is palpable. But in the black ghettos of South Africa, faith and political struggle are intertwined, so that St. Paul's is more than just a church.

It is adjoined by a complex of six buildings that form the Ipelegeng Community Center. The name means "be self-reliant" in the Tswana language.

The center is the main meeting place for the activist United Democratic Front, the principal domestic antiapartheid organization, and many of its affiliated organizations, which have been the primary targets of government action since the emergency began June 12.

In tones that conveyed both anger and hurt, Father Nkwe told the congregation of six gasoline bombs thrown through the windows of the complex, one in each building, during the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Two rooms were burned out, but mercifully, he said, the fire did not spread.

"This was a miracle of God," the minister said, and called on the congregation to kneel and give thanks that the center had been spared.

The attackers had seemed to know the layout intimately, he said. They had switched the numbers on all the doors so that those who tried to fight the fire fumbled with wrong keys.

"Who could have done this terrible thing?" Nkwe asked.

He then went on to note that the police had raided the complex a week earlier, going through all the rooms; that a man living next door reported seeing three whites drive up to the center in vans a few minutes before the firebombs went off; and that with the township sealed off since the emergency began, no unauthorized whites should have been able to enter Soweto that morning.

Angry murmurs rippled through the congregation.

News of the gasoline bomb attack can be reported here because it was confirmed two days later by the government's Bureau for Information. That made it officially authorized news.

What may not be authorized is a further statement by Nkwe that by this morning, five days after the bombing, no one had arrived to check for fingerprints or other clues.

In a slight amendment yesterday to the strict press regulations, the government said it was permissible for reporters to enter black areas provided it was not for the purpose of reporting on any matters relating to civil unrest, security force activities or anything to do with the emergency action, which has resulted in 56 known deaths and an estimated 3,000 detentions of blacks.

It apparently would have been legal to report on a wedding or a soccer match. A lawyer, consulted by this reporter, also advised that it would be within the law to attend a church service where Mandela worships, provided the reporter did not speak to her about unrest or police action while in Soweto. If the reporter wanted to ask her about that, he would either have to accompany her outside of Soweto or speak to her later by telephone.

Mandela had been subjected to special restrictions as well. Her small red-brick house on Vilakazi Street was surrounded last Monday night and she was served with a partial house-arrest order that also prohibited her from communicating with any member of the news media for the rest of the week. But now it was Sunday and that restriction, too, had expired.

The conversation with Mandela took place later, as advised by the lawyer. "It was an indescribable week," she said. "We were under total occupation. There were armed men everywhere, like what I imagine Beirut looks like. There was a lot of shooting and a lot of tear gas in my area, but mercifully not as many deaths as I feared there would be."

What now?

Mandela said she expected more action against political activists and thought the government would use new laws likely to come into force Monday to extend detention periods from two weeks to six months without charges.

"I am sure we are heading for worse times," she said. "Tough action like this is not the solution. It has failed in the past, which is why 10 years after the Soweto uprising the government is still passing more stringent security laws. The statute books are already bursting, but still they need more laws. All it does is sow the seeds for more strife."