DRIEFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA -- The rains came to Driefontein, and they were mighty, with raindrops like bullets crashing down on zinc rooftops here, thatched ones there, along gently rolling hills of the southeastern Transvaal not far from the Swaziland border.

Inside her small stone and mud house, Nonhlangano Beauty Mkhize, 50, stirred a sausage-and-potato stew simmering on her wood and coal stove. It was a damp, chilly and melancholy night, and Beauty was thinking -- as she often does on nights like this -- about her husband, Vusumuzi Saul Mkhize.

But not really about her husband. It was the constable who was on her mind, she said, the white man who killed Saul seven years ago during a land dispute and was acquitted despite the evidence of hundreds of witnesses. What Beauty really was thinking about was justice.

Off and on, she has had an urge to carry out a small plot of psychological revenge. This time, she said, speaking slowly and leaning in close to the candle-lit kitchen table, "I must do it.

"I am going to take a card and stick {Constable Johannes Niehaber's} photo on this side and {Saul's} photo on this side. Or get something like a Christmas card, and I'll stick his photo and my husband's photo" and send the card to Niehaber.

"I just want to remind him," she said softly. "I want to keep on reminding him."

If anyone has cause to hate whites in South Africa, it is perhaps Beauty and her son, Bongane Paris Mkhize, who is 25. But they don't.

"Some {whites}, they are bad. Some, they are good," said Beauty. The bad ones she expects to leave the country if black leaders come to power, but the good ones, she says, are likely to stay. "What we need is equal rights. That's all," said Beauty.

There are about 30 million blacks and 3 million mixed-race Coloreds in South Africa who, for decades under minority rule by the country's 5 million whites, have been herded into often squalid townships or divided into tribal "homelands," given the lowest-paying jobs and an inferior education. Many have been banned from public speaking or meetings, jailed or sometimes killed.

The effect of that treatment on black attitudes toward whites, toward themselves and toward the future of the country is complex. Many blacks and some Coloreds -- particularly in rural areas where apartheid is often most harsh -- appear mystified by whites, at a loss to understand their ways, knowing only that to be non-white is to be at their whim. But most blacks seem to hold a mixture of attitudes, often difficult to parse, combining acquiescence, defiance, accommodation and vengeance.

Such sentiments were echoed in the voices of black and Colored South Africans that this reporter heard during nine weeks in the country observing the struggle that is daily life in townships and rural settlements. How these feelings will play when the policies of apartheid are eventually dismantled, under plans being negotiated between Nelson Mandela, the recently freed black nationalist leader, and Frederik W. de Klerk, the South African president, is impossible to determine.

This makes many whites nervous. But many blacks say they simply want a good wage, a comfortable, uncrowded home and a marketable education for their children in a system of such openness and equality that they may feel their suffering will not have been in vain. What they want, said Benny Kotsoane, 24, of Botshabelo, is that "the blood of the blacks be taken into account."

Kotsoane, who is a supporter of Mandela's African National Congress and describes himself as a "comrade" or anti-apartheid activist, told of the evolution of his feelings toward whites, from a child who learned to hate them because they arrested his father and hurt his family, to an adult who said he now understands that it is the system that does the real harm.

"I did not understand that ideological differences exist," Kotsoane said. "I felt that everything was to blame on the whites. I was told they took our country. . . . When I was at school at primary level, I used to be close to one teacher. He was an ANC member. He was a very old person. I liked history, and I liked to attack whites bluntly -- you know, 'whites this and whites that' -- and he used to take me to his place and talk to me.

"I learned gradually, gradually. As time goes on, I am able to distinguish that not all whites are bad. What is really bad is this apartheid system."

A number of South African blacks say they recognize that whites will be important in the transition to a new South Africa because whites have much of the expertise that will be needed to train blacks and prepare them for leadership positions.

"We don't like the white people, but . . . we will live with the whites," said Gertrude "Bapsy" Magoqoza of Zolani in Cape Province. "The white people know about the factories, the mines, how to make the money."

Still, other blacks are deeply embittered by what whites have done to them and continue to carry the weight of that hatred.

Some want revenge for the wrongs done to them, to their families and friends and to their race. They would, if they could, do harm to whites.

At anti-apartheid demonstrations or at the funerals of slain activists, it is common to see youths carrying wooden replicas of AK-47 assault rifles and toy pistols that look like the real thing. While these weapons are symbols to a generation raised on the rhetoric of "armed struggle" and the songs of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the ANC, they also are stand-ins for the real thing.

"I want to tell you," said Moroka Isaac Matutle, 24, also of Botshabelo, "should they have arms, they would kill. The spirit of revenge is high in South Africa. Not that they hate whites. They just want revenge." A Longing for Acceptance

Duggie Kutumela, 56, an insurance sales manager who speaks loudly and smokes incessantly, was disgusted. It was 6 p.m., and Kutumela sat on his stained red velour sofa in Mamelodi outside Pretoria as the English-language newscast began flickering on his color television set.

The lead story set Kutumela off. Research baboons were being maltreated, and animal rights groups were calling for the regulation of their care. Pictures showed baboon abodes. They were not much smaller than typical township houses.

"Baboons must get legislation. But blacks? Noooo," Kutumela said.

Kutumela is a bitter man, filled with anti-white bluster born of years of being under the white thumb.

In the township, black men call him "bra-Duggie," the prefix meaning brother and conferring respect. But when he goes in his suit and tie to Pretoria, the most conservative of the largest cities here, white men sometimes call him "boy."

"All whites are the same because of their socialization from youth in this country," said Kutumela. "They are born, schooled and trained to dominate."

Mangwako, Kutumela's daughter, who is 16 and wears braces, said she has learned to hate because of what whites have done to her and to her people.

Mangwako is preparing for "versity," as blacks here call university education. She earns high marks at Vlakfontein High School in Mamelodi and hopes to attend the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study business. She dreams of attending Oxford University in England. It is overseas, she says, and thus would be exciting.

Mangwako's favorite television character is Vanessa on "The Cosby Show," which is shown her in reruns. Like that fictional character, like any teenager whose appetite for clothes has been whetted, Mangwako likes to shop. She can afford to sometimes because her parents earn combined salaries of 8,000 rand (about $3,200) a month.

But having money enough to move in the white world, to shop where whites shop, does not mean she can be accepted.

"When we are in town and we are going to buy some clothes, we are not given the same respect as whites," Mangwako said, her sweet, high-pitch voice racing. "They are the ones to be served first. They {salespeople} just ignore you.

"When I go to the movies, it's a multiracial place. You buy a ticket, get into the movie, buy some popcorns or hamburger. Whites treat us badly. They sometimes throw popcorns, and we hear them shouting funny words. 'Kaffirs, what do you want here? It's a white place!' " Kaffir is a derogatory white South African term for blacks.

When these things happen, Mangwako hates back. "If someone hates you, you hate them too," she said. "What else can you do?"

But inside, she suffers.

"It's like when you are a cripple and somebody who's not disabled tries to make you feel out of place," she said. "If you want to play a game, and they say cripples are not allowed, you feel left out."

She gets that feeling at school, too, when her white teachers express pity for blacks.

"They tell us about how they have visited America and how we can't visit America because of lack of finance. . . . If people feel sorry for us, it makes us feel so. It makes us think mean of ourselves. You feel guilty. You think you misused a chance of being equal to the whites."

Her mother, Annah Kutumela, 53, a nurse, said: "The whites don't really worry us. They're human. They fail to accept us, but personally we don't hate them that much. We hate that they don't accept us." Ill at Ease in the White World

Mangwako has not experienced the severity of apartheid the way her father has. She has not lived on land and then been uprooted because her black presence has been declared illegal, a typical experience under the Group Areas Act for most blacks of her father's generation.

The land, said Duggie Kutumela, was "always shifting." When he was young, his family lived in a black settlement at Marabastad in the northern Transvaal, but the land there was declared white. The family was moved closer to Pretoria, and they bought land at what is now called Eersterus.

"Then we were uprooted again, with very little compensation" when that land was declared Indian. "We were moved here," he said of Mamelodi, which was established in 1953 to accommodate blacks moved from Eersterus and other locations under the Group Areas Act.

"When I was younger, I felt revenge," said Kutumela. "But now I am getting older. I am useless and hopeless. . . . I can never be a full person without owning anything. I am dissatisfied to the bottom of my heart."

Outwardly, Kutumela maintains a full, rich life in Mamelodi. He is known by many in the town, owing in part to his management of an eight-person insurance sales team there for Metropolitan Life. But it is also because he is at the center of many township activities. He helps arrange funerals. He sits on the management council of parents and teachers that help guide the affairs of Mangwako's high school. He feeds neighbors who are hungry, gives students a place to live if they need it, lets neighbors who don't have a telephone use his.

Politically, he supports the Pan Africanist Congress, an anti-apartheid movement that branched off from the ANC in the 1950s and does not view whites as players in its struggle against apartheid; it has adopted the slogan, "One settler, one bullet."

That is Kutumela in the black world. In the white world, he is ill at ease. Among his own kind, he rails about what whites are and are not good for. But when around whites, he sometimes appears quite solicitous, even humble.

In the United Bank branch in downtown Pretoria one day, while trying to iron out a problem with his brother-in-law's account, Kutumela barely looked in the eyes of the condescending, impatient white woman at the counter. There was no bravado. Just a black man who knew his place, dealing with a white woman who knew hers.

Kutumela does not trust whites. At work-related gatherings or multiracial community meetings where they are present, he says, he can never be comfortable, even around whites who call themselves liberals.

"You drink so much liquor, but you never get drunk," he said. "You are always thinking, 'There must be some reason they asked me here.' "

At Kutumela's office, one of his colleagues, H.K. Mathobela, was concerned about the "real" story of black life in South Africa being told.

Asked what the "real" story is, he said: "You see, our lives are such that we are always pretending. The problem in life is survival, and we have been so drilled that we want to survive at all costs."

The black attitude, he said, often is: "You can call me anything as long as you give me a means of survival. I've got to be all things to all men." Farms Seem Stuck in Time

Dina Swanepoel's chest tightens, and her nose burns from the poison she has to spray, with no protective gear, on the ants in the vineyards in Rietvle in Cape Province, but she feels she cannot complain about it to the "baas."

"He'll say nothing. I just know that I mustn't go to him. He'll ignore me. In fact, he will get cross and chase me away," Swanepoel, 41, said in the Afrikaans language through a translator. She earns 6 rand ($2.40) a day.

"I can't talk with a white man," said Goliath Swanepoel, 50, Dina's husband, who, because of cataracts, wears dark sunglasses that give him a Ray Charles look. He receives a disability grant of $78 a month.

"I just wouldn't be able to converse with him easily, because I know over the years he's the baas, he's got ground, he's got land," he said.

The attitudes of submission to whites are perhaps strongest among rural workers, be they blacks or Coloreds, like the Swanepoels.

Rural workers often face the worst of apartheid, so harsh are their lives and so isolated are the farms from the relative liberalism of the large cities and their surrounding townships, where activism is strong and talk of change constant.

While nearly half of South Africa's 30 million blacks live in rural areas, the farms often seem stuck in time, a throwback to the ideal of staunch separate development upon which the apartheid system was based.

Farm workers generally are tenants on the land where they work, living in small shacks or mud houses with outdoor toilets, no plumbing and no electricity, far from the main house. They receive a small salary in addition to a plot of land to cultivate. Often, they are second- or third-generation workers for whites. In some cases, although not as commonly as in the past, children are forced to work the fields rather than attend classes. And to be a farm worker is to be the target of white abuse.

So authority is not questioned on the farms, for to do so is to risk a beating, or eviction.

The Swanepoels live in a two-room house with a dirt floor, which they share with their 8-year-old son, Dina's mother-in-law, her sister, her sister's husband and that couple's child.

Life in their house is difficult. "If a white man needs bread, he takes money, he goes and buys. We must go to Jesus," said Goliath. But they have decorated the main room "to bring some color and to show that people live here," said Dina.

Tiny jars of green and gold glitter hang on the walls, next to colorful magazine pictures of whites in swimsuits, whites in elegant dresses and childlike crayon drawings that Dina made while she was hospitalized two years ago with tuberculosis. In the corner, above a small shelf, is a picture of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt billowing.

The Swanepoels never went to school, and farm work is all they have known. They grew up believing that "this would be my lot," said Dina. The way they speak of whites reflects the years that they have been subservient to them.

Because of his eye problem, Goliath does only some light work around the farm, and he appreciates the "baas" for allowing that. "You know the white people don't like you to work slow because the job must get done," he said. "This baas here has not been funny towards me. When I say I am tired, then he allows me to go home."

This believing couple, who attend an Anglican church, look to God to help them understand their lives. But it is not easy to reconcile their faith with apartheid. They say they know God exists because they have prayed to him and he has answered.

But, said Goliath: "I don't know why the Lord allows these things. As I have it, our forefathers made a mistake. That's why they {the whites} are up front."

Dina explains: "Our forefathers weren't very clever, and those white people at that time, they were much cleverer than we were. That's why they have the advantage.

"When we get the advantage, they will have a bitter time. We will own our own land and help each other. They will have to do their own work." A Sense of Vengeance

When the racial strife of the mid-1980s swept South Africa, tiny Zolani township in Cape Province was not spared. The confrontation there started with a boycott at the local primary school by students protesting "bantu," or inferior, education. Students who had marched in support of the boycott were rounded up from their homes by armed adult men of the township who were aligned with the town council and police.

That clash, in which several students were beaten, sparked an uprising in the usually sleepy town of about 4,000, dividing black residents between those who wanted to protect the students and their cause from those out to maintain the status quo. The latter came to be known as "vigilantes."

Residents were routinely beaten by the vigilantes or dragged into the local town administration offices for interrogation, all with the acquiescence of police, according to lawyers who filed complaints on behalf of some of the residents.

Among those harassed was Mariam Tyhalisisu, 66. She was a member of the parents committee formed to help the students and to get legal protection from the vigilantes. That made her a vigilante target.

Today there is a huge knot on her left wrist, a reminder of the time when the vigilantes caught her and beat her. Her only son, Timothy Tyhalisisu, now 43, also was beaten.

"It was very serious," said Tyhalisisu. "Any person must not go outside. The vigilantes beat them."

Tyhalisisu, a toothless woman with the spirit of a lioness, remains bitter. The vigilantes were allowed to operate in the townships with impunity, while scores of other residents were rounded up and taken into custody under the nationwide state of emergency the government imposed in 1985. She too was held without charge for "three months, four days."

Although the violence in Zolani was of blacks against blacks, Tyhalisisu places the real blame on the system of apartheid, which she sees as having created the conditions that provoke such bloodshed. She is also bitter about the 23 years she worked on the conveyor belt at the white-owned Langeberg canning factory, where, when she left, her wage was a bare 40 rand a week, the equivalent of about $16.

"The whites know {this} is not their land. They come from overseas," she said, expressing a view commonly held among blacks that whites, whose European ancestors settled South Africa beginning in the 17th century, are interlopers.

She counts herself among those who would take a mean revenge. "Myself, if given chance to kill white people, myself I kill them. . . ." she said. "How many years the apartheid?"

NEXT: Blacks battling themselves