JOHANNESBURG, JULY 16 -- South Africa tonight recalled its ambassador-designate from France after French President Francois Mitterrand refused to accept his credentials in a diplomatic row over the jailing of a French citizen in the ostensibly independent tribal homeland of Ciskei.

The South African foreign minister, Roelof F. (Pik) Botha, angrily accused Mitterrand of acting in a "spiteful and inappropriate manner for domestic political gain."

The breakdown in relations between the two countries came after Mitterrand refused last month to accept the credentials of Hendrik Geldenhuys in a dispute over the imprisonment of Pierre-Andre Albertini. The French citizen was fulfilling his national service as a volunteer social worker in Ciskei, one of five nominally independent tribal homelands created by the white South African government but not recognized by any other government.

Albertini was sentenced to four years in prison for refusing to testify in a Ciskei court last year against accused members of the African National Congress, the outlawed guerrilla organization battling racial segregation and minority white rule in South Africa.

Albertini refused to give evidence against five defendants in a terrorism case, including a close friend, the Rev. Arnold Stofile. Both were lecturers at the University of Fort Hare.

Paris' position in the Albertini case has been heralded in France as a point of honor. The affair has progressively worsened relations between France and South Africa.

In a statement issued by his office tonight, Botha noted that France does not recognize Ciskei.

"If a South African citizen were to be sentenced in a former French territory which is not recognized by South Africa, it would be ridiculous to take diplomatic retaliation against France," he added.