Due to a typographical error, the attendance at Saturday's WBA heavyweight championship fight in Pretoria, South Africa, was incorrect in some of Sunday's editions. The correct attendance was 89,000.

John Tate, a 24-year-old unbeaten heavyweight from Knoxvill, Tenn., won the toughest road challenge an athlete can face tonight and with it the World Boxing Association heavy-weight championship.

Tate scored a unanimous 15-round decision over previously unbeaten South African Gerrie Coetzee before a crowd of 8,900 at Loftus Versfled rugby stadium.

It was the first time blacks were permitted to attend a sports event in this stadium in a suburb of Johannesburg -- the capital of this racially segregated country.

Tate, a black, was a decided underdog to hard-punching coetzee, a 26-year-old white South African who earlier this year knocked out Leon Spinks in the first round to set up tonight's showdown to fill the tile vacated by Muhammad Ali.

Tate, now 20-0, weighed 240 pounds, 18 more than Coetzee. He showed great patience early in the fight before taking command in the seventh round.

From that point it was all Tate, to the dismay of the hugh throng, which came to the stadium in hopes of seeing Coetzee (now 20-1) provide South Africa -- an island in the international sports community because of its racial policy -- one of the most prestigious titles in sports.

Referee Carlos Barrocal of Panama scored it 147-142 and judge Carlos Martinez Cassas of Argentina 148-145.

American Bob Arum, one of the promoters of the fight, said he thought Tate and World Boxing Council heavyweight champ Larry Holmes could fight for universal title recognition in the fall on 1980.

Arum, who has Tate under contract for his next three fights, indicated Tate's first title defense could come in February against one of these fighters: Mike Weaver, Scott Ledoux, Earnie Shavers, Ron Lyle or Spinks.

It was the largest outdoor crowd for a heavyweight championship fight since Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney attracted 102,000 people to Chicago's Soldier Field in 1927.

Despite the fact that the formerly whites-only stadium was recently opened to all races and tickets begin at $12 (scaling up to $345), the crowd was overwhelmingly white.

Arum said the gate proceeds were approximately $3.3 million, which will more than adequately cover expenses estimated by the South African sponsor to run about $1.8 million. Purses for the eight fights on the card totaled about $840,000.

Tate flew by helicopter to Pretoria from his training center in an upper-crust Johannesburg suburb. Coetzee came by car to this country's summertime capital.

The Stars and Stripes and the South African flag fluttered from opposite ends of the stadium.

The crowd was in a festive mood, many drinking from bottles of wine and whisky, as they jostled their way into the stadium.

Security was tight, with 1,200 men on duty plus 100 attack dogs and 200 sharpshooters. Those fans taking bags or boxes into the stadium were searched by guards at the gate.

The infield in the vast stadium was ringed with a wire fence, which was topped by three strands of barbed wire.

Among the fans were Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha and his wife Elize, who arrived during a preliminary fight. They were accompanied by Sol Kerzner, the South African hotel impresario who set up the championship fight with Arum.

Straight across the ring sat the man Botha replaced as prime minister, John Vorster, who was dressed in a tuxedo, along with several colleagues who flanked him in a front row.

Despite Vorster's fall from power into disgrace because of South Africa's worst political scandal, he apparently still has his fans. One asked him for his autograph tonight.

It was the second time this year Tate has beaten a white South African, having stopped Kallie Knoetze in eight rounds on June 2 in Bophuthatswana.

"I feel super, man," said Tate. "I feel like the champion of the world."

Tate, once a migrant worker, began boxing as a teen-ager and earned his first recognition as a member of the 1976. Olympic boxing team. He reached the semifinals that year, but was knocked out by Cuban Teofilo Stevenson.

If Tate was depressed by his loss to Stevenson nearly four years ago, his glory must be sweet tonight, along with his bank account, which was increased by $400,000.

Few athletes ever entered a sports arena under tougher conditions. The fight had been billed as the most important sports event in the history of the country.

Many people here and abroad had criticized Tate for participating, the American (Arum) for helping to stage it, and NBC for televising the event. a

Tate maintained he was not a politican, rather a prizefighter in quest of his greatest bounty. He was there to fight, not to politick.

And fight he did.

It was not pretty, and no one will mistake Tate for Ali, but Tate earned his battle stars.

In the fourth round, Tate pounded Coetzee's body, forcing him into the ropes. It was clearly Tate's best round to that point and set the stage for things to come. Both fighters slipped several times because of wet patches on the ring's floor caused by rain.

By the seventh round, the crowd was getting restless and began chanting, "Go, go, go." In the eighth round, Coetzee slipped to one knee as Tate hit him with a right hand. Tate then landed a hard right to Coetzee's head and another to his chin but Coetzee's head and another to his chin but Coetzee returned with punches to the American's body and then a hook to the head, sending him into the ropes.

By the ninth round, it was clear that Coetzee was weakening, and in the 10th he spent much time fleeing Tate's punches.

Coetzee made a gallant effort to recoup in the 12th as the disheartened crowd cheered him on, chanting, "Gerrie, Gerrie." But his best was gone. Tate's punches now clearly had more snap than Coetzee's a reverse of the situation at the start.

The last round was anticlimactic as it was clear Tate was far ahead on points. "I will fight anybody who wants to fight me," said Tate afterward.

But he left no doubt that the "anybody" he really wants is the 29-year-old Holmes.

Tate, who now has won all 20 of his pro fights, followed his fight plan to perfection, circling and boxing through the first half of the bout.

"I went out in the first round and felt my man out, I didn't try to get

In the third round, Tate's knees buckled from a Coetzee right hand that had floored Leon Spinks three times in a one-round knockout June 24.

"Coetzee never hurt me physically, but he got in some good shots. He's very quick," Tate said.

Coetzee began the fight in a cocky mood, taunting Tate and calling on him to come out and fight. But after the third round, his aggression faded and Tate took over.

"There was lots of pressure on me," Coetzee said. "I'm disappointed. Tate's a good fighter and he deserved to win.

"Maybe the Lord just didn't want me to be champion," he added. "I don't know. I'm feeling bad. I really wanted to be the next world champion, and I just didn't make it."