STELLENBOSCH, SOUTH AFRICA, JUNE 29 -- In a rare exchange of views between the races in this segregated society, 200 students, some black and some white, have spent the past two days in a hotel here debating the future of their strife-torn country.
The black students came in buses from ghetto townships that have experienced some of the most serious racial violence of the past three years, while most of the whites were from Stellenbosch University, the ruling Afrikaner community's most prestigious college.
They were brought together by an institute founded recently by former opposition politician Frederik van Zyl Slabbert to promote contact between Afrikaner and African nationalists, who Slabbert believes are set on a collision course that could lead to a race war.
From Saturday until today the students ate, slept and talked together in intense sessions that sometimes produced heated exchanges but also revealed a growing radicalism among a number of the Afrikaner students who said they were ready to live under black majority rule.
The meeting was characterized by repeated assurances from the black students, some of whom bore the scars of clashes with security forces in the townships, that what they called the "people's revolution" was directed not against whites but against "the unjust system" of apartheid that imposes segregation and white minority rule.
"I would like to allay your fears about the term 'people's government,'" said Jeremiah Sulelo, a black student who was imprisoned for five years. "It doesn't mean a black government; it means a government for everyone who identifies with the struggle to overthrow an unjust system."
There were also heated moments, as when an Afrikaner student leader, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who said he favored black-white negotiation, argued in favor of continued security force action in the townships to ensure stability while such negotiations were in progress.
He said the underground African National Congress should be excluded from the talks unless it cut its ties with communists.
"There is no way the ANC is going to distance itself from the only people who stood by it after your government banned it and put our leaders in jail," one black student retorted heatedly.
Blacks also reacted angrily to Van Schalkwyk's suggestion -- a reflection of official government policy -- that it was "not a viable option" for the African National Congress to participate in negotiations while it was still waging a guerrilla struggle against white minority rule.
Protesting that they were the victims more than the perpetrators of violence, the blacks argued that it was even less tolerable "that the state should be able to hold its military power over a negotiating table."
Some of the most intense exchanges were on the kind of economic system South Africa should have after apartheid, with the blacks and radical whites equating apartheid with capitalism, while more conservative whites warned of the economic failure of socialism in other African countries.
Slabbert, who said he was pleased with the way the conference went, said he plans to hold more "contact workshops" like this between whites and blacks all over South Africa.
Slabbert, who resigned as leader of the opposition Progressive Federal Party in 1985, raised funds abroad, mainly in Scandinavia, the United States and Britain, to start the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa to promote dialogue between these two forces.
As Slabbert explained it, the institute's role is to bridge the gulf of noncommunication caused by segregated living and "get people talking before they start killing each other."
If young black activists in the townships and young whites who are conscripted into the Army can meet and talk, Slabbert said, there is a chance they will begin to understand each other's needs and fears.
"But if they both regard it as inevitable that they must kill each other then, my God, they are going to fight," he warned.