UITENHAGE, SOUTH AFRICA -- For Adam Jeeva Mussa, the wheels of apartheid justice grind on relentlessly, even into the dawning of a new South Africa.

The government has promised to repeal in just a few months the 30-year-old Group Areas Act, which forbids nonwhites to live or buy property in white areas, but it also has decided to press charges against Mussa for 77 alleged violations of the act, stemming from his purchase since 1980 of 24 properties in white areas of this car-manufacturing center.

President Frederik W. de Klerk has proclaimed to the outside world the death of the apartheid system of racial separation, but at home his government is still prosecuting individuals such as Mussa under laws of apartheid. If apartheid is dying in South Africa, it is going down fighting here in Uitenhage.

"It's making a mockery of what de Klerk is saying the world over," said Louis Khumalo, a public relations agent whom Mussa has hired to publicize his plight. Meanwhile, Mussa's lawyers are hoping to drag out the case until the law changes.

Today, by his own and other accounts, Mussa, 51, is one of the community's biggest taxpayers and richest citizens. He owns some of the main business centers in town, and his companies employ 800 people.

Mussa's story -- unlikely anywhere but in South Africa -- is as complex as the labyrinth of laws that governs his life.

Mussa has said he's white, and that's the problem. The state says he's not. It categorizes him as one of the mixed-raced South Africans known as Coloreds. So -- and this is one unique aspect of life in South Africa under laws that date back to 1950 -- Mussa and the government are having what is known as a race-classification dispute.

Mussa has been fighting the courts over whether he should be classified as white, Colored or Indian for 22 years.

At first, he wanted to be a "Colored Malay." His home was in a Colored area, and most of his friends were Malays. But the Race Classification Appeal Board said he was an Indian, since his father apparently came here from India.

But this meant he would have to sell his home and move. Indians could not live in a Colored area; the problem was, there was no Indian suburb here.

So he appealed the board's decision in court, and in a surprise ruling it decided he was a Syrian, since his family was Syrian by origin.

This ruling only created further complications for Mussa because Uitenhage's Syrians, who mostly migrated to South Africa in the 1930s, are divided into two groups, Christians and Moslems, according to the faith their families adhered to in Syria.

While Christian Syrians are regarded as "whites," Moslem Syrians belong to a special category known as "other Asiatic," a sub-group of Coloreds. But under the Group Areas Act, there is no such group. So Mussa, a Moslem, went to the local authorities in 1983 for a clarification of just what he was for the purposes of deciding where he could live in Uitenhage.

They gave him a certification saying he was "a Syrian with the same rights and obligations as a {white} European."

This appeared to clear him for living and buying properties in white areas of the city. Mussa, a highly successful wholesale trader and real estate dealer, went at it with gusto, buying up what he estimates to be about 87 homes and buildings in white areas here and in nearby Port Elizabeth.

In four or five of the homes he has bought here, he installed mixed couples, including Mattheus Snyman, 54, a white Afrikaner and Conservative Party member, and his Colored wife, Martha Jacobs. Snyman is Mussa's chauffeur, an unusual inversion of authority in a country where Afrikaners normally give the orders.

Mussa's sin under the Group Areas Act was that he bought many of these properties alleging he was a "white man." Thus, 24 of the 77 charges placed against him by the Conservative Party-dominated town council are for fraud, because he claimed in sworn statements to be white.

Interviewed at one of his many offices here, Mussa seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the sudden burst of outside interest in his case, which could prove to be the last major one the state prosecutes before the Group Areas Act becomes history.

Asked what race he wanted to belong to, Mussa replied with a twinkle in his eye: "I'm a South African. I don't want to be a white person. I want to be a South African.

"I've spent all my life trying to live as a human being and not as a member of a race," he said as he called his white lawyer, Conrad Cubitt, on the telephone, to come to provide details of his long struggle with the racial laws.

Mussa estimated he has spent 500,000 rand -- about $200,000 -- in legal fees since he started fighting the issue of his race classification 22 years ago.

Khumalo, the PR man, said he believes Mussa's case has taken on new life now because the Conservative town council wants to make use of the Group Areas Act and the Population Registration Act while they are still on the books. De Klerk has promised to repeal the Group Areas Act early next year, but the latter law will probably stay in force until a new national constitution is negotiated -- two to three years from now.

Despite all, Mussa has kept his faith in de Klerk's promise of a nonracial "new South Africa." He said he believes de Klerk to be "an honest man" who was going "in the right direction" and had already brought about "a lot of change."

"He can't be blamed for this," he said, referring to his own immediate troubles with apartheid's old laws.