BOTSHABELO, SOUTH AFRICA -- "Viva! Vivaaaaa!" the young boys of Botshabelo shout, fists in the air, when "comrades" like Tshote "Jack" Matutle or William "Benny" Kotsoane pass through the dusty roads and walkways of this sprawling Orange Free State township.

Kotsoane, 24, and Matutle, 26, are young militant activists in the struggle against apartheid, part of a cadre of youths all over the country who are angry, frustrated and consumed by their cause. They do not party or hang out. They have no time for soccer. Instead, they organize, politicize and mobilize. Life, for them, is one continuous comrades' caucus, replacing even their families.

The comrades, who say they have no intention of waiting patiently for liberation as they feel their parents have, are a wild card in the current period of reform.

If the negotiations for a new South Africa between black nationalist leader Nelson Mandela and South African President Frederik W. de Klerk stall seriously -- or do not produce dramatic enough results -- these youths could lead the country into a new cycle of upheaval.

To some parents, who time and again have seen their activist children dragged off to jail, even beaten, the youths are an inspiration, the future leaders. But other adults often are taken aback and sometimes frightened by the militancy of these young people.

The strength and radicalism of South Africa's youth have been intensifying since the student uprising of 1976 in the nation's largest black township, Soweto. Since the mid-1980s, young people have been the spearhead of revolts in townships across the country. Under the leadership of Peter Mokaba, the original "young lion" and president of the South African Youth Congress, the youthful activists are mounting an all-out challenge to the institutions of apartheid all over South Africa, where this reporter traveled for nine weeks this spring, living in several black townships.

They lead boycotts, marches and protest rallies. They organize street committees and civic associations. They help old people get their pensions. They arrange for lawyers when legal aid is needed. And, in Botshabelo at least, they have given schools new names like "Nelson Mandela High" and, reflecting their affinity for Marxist rhetoric, "Soviet Union High."

Around the country, some of the youths have left school, saying there should be "liberation before education." Those who remain in class often wield so much power that fearful teachers simply resign -- and with reason. In some instances, the homes of hated teachers and principals have been firebombed, and teachers routinely have quit when they sensed their popularity among pupils slipping.

Some of the young people are overzealous, using intimidation to get others to follow them. And some who call themselves comrades are simply criminals whose deeds in the mid-1980s tainted the anti-apartheid movement.

Raised on the romance and rhetoric of the armed struggle, many black South African youths are increasingly impatient with those who advocate negotiations and nonviolence as the best strategy for dismantling the oppressive policies of apartheid.

"To tell you frankly, the youth have a problem with negotiations," said Matutle of Botshabelo, who is aligned with Mandela's African National Congress. There are some young people, he said, who "believe in just putting fire to everything."

The youth problem also preoccupies the Pan-Africanist Congress, a smaller but equally entrenched anti-apartheid group. When Pan-Africanist leader Benny Alexander said earlier this month that the group, which long had rejected the idea of negotiating with the white government, now supports the talks between Mandela and de Klerk, the group's youth wing quickly denounced Alexander and his new policy.

Many youths say they cannot simply sit and wait under apartheid for their older, more seasoned leaders to negotiate their future. So young black South Africans have been taking the future into their own hands.

In Mamelodi, student activists boycotted classes earlier this year and forced some teachers to resign. They demanded and won refund of their school fees after contending that the school's management committee, made up of parents and teachers, had misused the money.

In Driefontein, students chased away a police officer who had come onto the grounds of their high school, then set fire to his car and did the toyi-toyi, a dance of defiance, around the blaze. It was a victory, one of the students said.

In Botshabelo, young people mounted a series of challenges to a government plan to incorporate their settlement into one of the so-called "independent homelands" -- and won in court. They mounted an anti-crime campaign in the township which, among other things, set up a clearinghouse for the return of stolen property -- though police then arrested several of the youths and charged some of them with sedition for operating an alternative law-enforcement structure.

"They've got to see movement," said the Rev. Israel Qwelane, of Sebokeng, describing the mood among the youths. "It's all very well to say the govermment is prepared to move sometime. I feel that we cannot really wait for five or 10 years, because children see. They know that a white kid has a library that's fully equipped, a science lab that's fully equipped. He knows that on the other side, things are done.

"Grown-ups feel children are impatient, wanting change almost overnight," said Qwelane. "But to the youth it's the other way around. Things are moving too slowly. As far as they are concerned, Nelson Mandela should have produced the goods."

When youths come to talk to Qwelane about the struggle, he urges them to be patient. Their reply, however, is often: "Father, for a long time you people have asked us to restrain ourselves. We feel that we just cannot." The Language of Politics

Ask a comrade about his personal history under apartheid, and it is as if he has no personal history. Tsietsi Setona, 19, began his response to such inquiries with the stereotyped phrase, "The position of the organization is . . . "

Ask Setona about his personal goals, and he offers another organizational "position," saying his aim is "to eradicate the evil system of apartheid and replace it with a peaceful, non-racial, just system."

The comrades speak one language, and it is the langage of the struggle. For a black youth in South Africa today, said Setona, it has to be this way because "if he's not politicized, he becomes victim to all these anti-social formations: thuggery groups, excessive drinking, dagga {marijuana}, all these things."

Jack Matutle speaks the language, too.

"Evict the police, get them out, force them to resign," he said last month, outlining the comrades' plan of action in Botshabelo. They want to "pressurize" the police out of the township, said Matutle, who has been arrested and jailed, sometimes without charge, nearly every year since he was 16.

"By 'evict' them, I mean I wouldn't like to use the term 'intimidate them' as such, but that will be the effect," he said. "We are really going to make it felt that we are tired of them, that we want them out. It will no longer be easy for them to move around the location."

And then there is to be a boycott at the ramshackle shopping plaza, where white businessmen own beer halls, restaurants and shops. At the industrial park where Taiwanese, Israeli and Chinese companies were given enticing incentives by the South African government to open factories, there is to be a strike, Matutle said.

"Our people are being exploited," he said of the factory workers who earn as little as 52 rand (about $21) a fortnight.

In the past, getting the full support of the people for these actions has posed problems. So meager are the wages of factory workers that they can ill afford to strike and lose pay.

Matutle said that the comrades expect that some people will not be willing to sacrifice. "That is why I was saying to you, we are going to have mass meetings to try and make people understand, to try and show people that they must boycott work."

Matutle said his mission -- in fact the mission of all youths who are comrades -- is "to empower the people, and empowering them means they get educated from the grass roots."

The youth, said Kotsoane, have "to take responsibility and have responsibility. Our parents did not really take it. They did not work {against apartheid}. So we are the ones who have to bear all this. We have to force them to participate. We have to educate them a lot."

Personal lives, personal pursuits take a back seat. In Botshabelo, Kotsoane, Matutle and other comrades run advice offices at the local Catholic and Anglican churches where people come with problems such as police harassment, cuts in pension payments or disputes about rent. They are the only vehicle many people here have for negotiating through the bureaucracy of apartheid. Residents often go to the comrades' homes for help.

"At times when I am alone, I say I really have to relax, but while relaxing, people come and say, 'Can't you do this?' 'Can you organize this?' So it just becomes a habit to work," said Kotsoane.

Divisions over Tactics

The comrades of South Africa are possessed of a single-minded pursuit. They want liberation, and they believe that everyone else, every right-thinking black South African, ought to want it just as they do. When someone disagrees with "the position," the response of the comrades is often a curt: "You are out of order!"

"They think they are right all the way," said the Rev. Sam Mokoena, an Anglican priest in Botshabelo.

It is a zealousness that has often led to trouble. When the Botshabelo comrades organized a rally and march last fall, they went door to door "letting people know of the necessity of their presence at the march," as Matutle put it. The turnout for the march was high. The township's soccer stadium, which seats 30,000, was filled to overflowing. But some people resented what they regarded as intimidation by the comrades.

Then during a bus boycott earlier this year, there was trouble again. Some people got tired of walking or went broke paying taxi fare. When they boarded buses in defiance of the boycott, some youths got angry. A bus was set afire. Four people were killed.

Matutle and the other comrades said they regret the deaths. There are, they admit, some among them who are uncontrollable. There is even a word for them: comtsotsis, or comrades who behave like tsotsis (thugs).

"It can really confuse our people," said Matutle. "They come with their personal interests." They "get into the businesses and say they want money, somebody has died, they are comrades. Then they take the money and go to Thaba Nchu Sun {hotel and casino} with their girlfriends."

The presence of this criminal element, plus the comrades' authoritarian bent, concerns many parents and other older people.

"There is an element of the younger folks that has lost that respect for the parents," said Mokoena. "You know, they might think the parents never fought."

Many of the older people in Botshabelo do not fully understand the comrades. When the comrades and others took on the government two years ago and filed a legal challenge against incorporation of the predominantly Sotho-speaking township into the Sotho-speaking homeland of QwaQwa almost 200 miles away, the generational differences became apparent.

Some Botshabelo residents, many of them Sothos who had come to Botshabelo from the Kroomdraai refugee camp in the nearby Tswana-speaking homeland of Bophuthatswana, thought incorporation was a good idea. Life under QwaQwa could not be any worse than life at the refugee camp.

At Kromdraai, their homes often were raided by homeland police, their children were expelled from Tswana-speaking schools, their livestock were sometimes confiscated and they were forced to pay taxes that Tswanas were not.

Incorporation into QwaQwa also seemed a good idea because, after all, it was QwaQwa leader T.K. Mopeli who had protested about the maltreatment of the Sothos at Kroomdraai and who had negotiated with the South African government for their resettlement to Botshabelo.

But the comrades saw incorporation as just another example of "the will of apartheid", said Kotsoane.

Ndaba Mpopo, 66, who mends clothes for a living, was loyal to the QwaQwa government and said he favored incorporation. But the comrades squelched dissent in the township. Mpopo said he is not sure what the comrades want, where they are headed.

"Comrades is a new system," said Mpopo. "It is still too early to know how far will they go."

Classes or Causes?

At a meeting of parents, teachers, school administrators and students of Vlakfontein High School in Mamelodi last April, the parents yelled at the students and the students yelled at the parents. The students wanted more control over the school's administration; the parents wanted the students to shut up and study.

Education at Vlakfontein had been disrupted when students boycotted classes to demand the dismantling of the school's management council of parents and teachers because it is a structure set up by the school system under apartheid.

The students also demanded -- and won -- the return of their school fees -- 23 rand (about $9) per student. The fees pay for things that, in black schools, the government will not provide, such as sports equipment. "The govenment doesn't even provide footballs" for soccer, said Rector MaNganye, deputy principal of Lethabile High School in Mamelodi.

South Africa in 1988 spent the equivalent of $238 per capita on each black student, compared to $1,088 for each white student, according to government statistics.

The black students at Vlakfontein said their money was being misused. "We pay school fund but there is no replacement for that window," said Bernard Tshabangu, president of the school's Student Representative Council, pointing to a missing pane in one of the classrooms. A crumbling cabinet in the corner of the room listed sideways; a torn slide projection screen covered part of a chalkboard. "As you can see, {the classroom} is broken and filthy."

"This bantu education, it's not just inferior, it is useless," said Solly Mohlamonyane, 20, a student activist at Vlakfontein. "Bantu" is the word commonly used to describe what South Africa's blacks consider their separate-but-unequal schools.

So the students targeted the school fees and the management council that advises the principal on how to spend the money.

Parents in Mamelodi say they don't understand the attitudes of the students. Some of the parents see potentially great opportunities for young blacks in the new South Africa, opportunities that they feel the youths are squandering.

"The country can't be taken over by illiterates," said Annah Kutumela of Mamelodi, whose daughter, Mangwako, 16, supports the students.

"I feel let's grab a chance and we'll improve ourselves. The time is right for us to take over. . . . If we are fighting, not learning, who is going to take over the responsible positions? The whites are going to come back and take over again.

"The younger generation, it's just a pity because they don't think deeply," she said. "They are very emotional."

At Lethabile High, when students challenged the principal, he walked out and disappeared rather than face them. It is common around the country for the homes of principals or teachers to be firebombed if they expell or discipline student leaders, though this had not happened in Mamelodi.

"To be a leader of an organization is a risk," said Obed Mbalahti, a member of Vlakfontein High's management council. "You may do something against the wish of young people, as it is now. In many schools they are afraid of children."

Students see their fight against bantu education as a just one. They view the schools as places where the policies of apartheid train boys to be subservient men in low paying, unskilled jobs.

Tshabangu and Mohlamonyane have expectations higher than that. Bernard wants to get a business degree in college and work in the communications field. Solly wants to be an architect or land surveyor. They said they believe they can achieve these things.

"To have a future, you must dream," said Mohlamonya.

But it will come, they believe, only if they fight for it, and not just for themselves.

"We are involved in all these issues {because} it's a preparation for those who are coming behind us," said Tshabangu.

To go to the movies or shop for clothes or just see some sights in Pretoria, about 30 miles away, these youths in Mamelodi must take a long ride in overcrowded buses out of their township, past the factories that employ their fathers and through the white suburbs.

The homes there are large and pretty. The lawns are expansive and a plush green.

The youths who will inherit the new South Africa watch that well-ordered and pampered life go by. It is not theirs. They wonder if it can ever be.

"I tell myself that in future I am going to own such a house," said Tshabangu. "You say you are going to work hard in achieving your goals."

"I believe such things happen because the wealth of this land is not shared," said Mohlamonyane. "That's why I feel sad when I see those houses. I always tell myself it's our father's money."

Some of Botshabelo's poorest residents have lived in a tent city, above, for years while waiting for the South African government to provide housing for them. Though their situation is worse than that faced by most black South Africans, housing in the townships is generally substandard.

Maria Selemela, 72, caresses her cat in a sparsely furnished room, above, in her family's Botshabelo home. She cooks her meals on a burner on the floor. Many in Sebokeng don't have electric stoves, so Isiah Mphuthi, right, must cook for his family on a makeshift coal and wood stove outside his home.

Militant young blacks dance the toyi-toyi during a march in Thabong. While young South Africans often display publicly their political fervor and anger, many of the older generation turn to the church, below. Kneeling in St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Botshabelo are, from left, Johannes Mathang, Elsie Chakalame, Dan Mphulamphula, Albert Selemela and Lawrence Mohoase.

Members of the Shongweni Youth Congress listen to a speaker during a meeting, above. To dismantle apartheid, in the words of one leader, organizers must "empower the people and empowering them means they get educated from the grass roots."

But to the youth it's the other way around. Things are moving too slowly. as far as they are concerned, Nelson Mandela should have produced the goods."

-- The Rev. ISRAEL QWELANE, of Sebokeng