CRADOCK, SOUTH AFRICA -- For five years, Gertrude Calata waited for justice to be done, for the killers of her son to be arrested. Now she's given up, saying she doesn't care anymore.

"It will never be proved, but we know who killed them," she said, referring to her activist son, Fort, and his three colleagues -- Matthew Goniwe, Sparro Mkonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli. They were dragged from their car and slain on the road to Port Elizabeth on the night of June 28, 1985.

Ask their families, or any resident of the black township of Lingelihle on the eastern outskirts of Cradock, and they will blame the South African police for the killings.

In the early 1980s, the four men -- three teachers and a railroad worker -- led the resistance movement in Lingelihle against the white government's apartheid system of racial separation. Their funeral, attended by 50,000, provoked the government into imposing the first nationwide state of emergency in June 1985.

A belated inquest into their deaths in 1988 got nowhere. Testimony presented earlier this year to a special commission in Pretoria strongly suggested the killings may have been the work of the police or the army's now defunct, secret Civil Cooperation Bureau.

But in an interview with family members of the slain activists, Calata said she no longer was interested in pursuing the issue. "Fort will not be resurrected," she said.

Like many blacks interviewed during a recent trip across central and southern South Africa, Calata, 71, does not believe there has been much change yet under President Frederik W. de Klerk.

"It is going to change, but it will take a very long time. I think I'll be dead by then," she said.

Often, however, blacks seem reluctant to admit those changes that have taken place, particularly regarding the new freedom of political activity.

The youth of Lingelihle no longer fear arrest for doing the toyi-toyi -- a street dance set to liberation songs -- and residents are free to hold rallies and march into the white town of Cradock, with police permission. Even members of the South African Communist Party, who were imprisoned just for unfurling a red banner at the slain activists' funeral in 1985, say they are no longer being harassed.

But white attitudes toward blacks have changed little, if at all, Calata said. "A few are greeting us in town, and that's a thing they never did before," she said. And the "white ladies" of the Cradock Wesleyan Church called her up about giving some aid to the nursery she runs, Calata said.

"We shop at the same stores -- blacks, whites and {mixed-raced} Coloreds. But at the end of the day, there are no blacks in town after 6 p.m.," she said of Cradock.

The same kinds of complaints and comments came from scores of blacks interviewed in a half-dozen other townships visited. Change, it seems, is coming slowly, too slowly for most South African blacks. De Klerk's reforms, except for the new political freedoms, still seem distant mirages to them.

"We're still being seen as 'things,' something less than human," said Tsiu Mtsepe, a local African National Congress official in Thabong, a black township on the eastern edge of Welkom in Orange Free State province. "Racism is still very much entrenched."

The white council of Odendaalsrus, near Welkom, recently opened the town's pool and library to blacks following the repeal of the Separate Amenities Act, which had made all white public facilities off-limits to blacks. But entrance fees for these places were increased.

"They won't let you in," said Kodi Ditheb of the nearby black township of Kutloanong. "So we ask ourselves, is the government really sincere?"

Similar tactics are being used by whites in Cradock, and scores of other conservative rural villages and towns continue to keep blacks out of their public facilities, according to South African press reports.