Johannesburg — These are heady days for South Africa. One by one the black-ruled states of southern Africa seem to be genuflecting to Pretoria's will and might. But with each victory, the realization seems to be spreading here that these ''gains'' are not all they appear to be. South Africa's internal problems remain as great as ever.
The latest reminder came on the Monday morning news when South Africans learned of a weekend rocket attack on an oil refinery near Durban. Four guerrillas - three blacks and one person of mixed raced - were killed in a five-hour gun battle with police. Three civilians were also killed.
It is not known whether the attack was launched internally or from the territory of a neighboring state. What is expected is that most blacks in South Africa will privately sympathize with the attack. And while South Africa's new accords with neighboring black states may help to decrease the number of such guerrilla strikes, they are not lessening black sympathy for the attacks, analysts say.
Jacobus van Wyk, a political scientist at the Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, has completed an extensive opinion survey of informed ''elites'' among all of South Africa's race groups.
He concluded that while in a regional context South Africa is strong because of its economic and military might, internally South Africa remains weak. This is because the white government lacks broad popular support. ''Its ideology and institutions lack the necessary legitimacy and are internally contested,'' says Mr. van Wyk. Specifically on the question of violence, van Wyk found that 73 percent of the blacks surveyed felt that blacks in South Africa ''have good reason to take up arms against the government.'' (Only 4 percent of the white politicians questioned thought blacks were justified in taking up arms.)
In Parliament, the white opposition Progressive Federal Party recently warned of reading too much into the regional accords. Alex Boraine of the PFP said, ''The ultimate question is not peace with our neighbors, nor even sharing power with Coloreds and Indians, but a new deal and a genuine accommodation between white and black South Africans.''
Pretoria's regional gains also appear to have had an impact on black thinking. Initially there was disappointment and disgust at the specter of governments that themselves were once ''liberation movements'' bowing to Pretoria's demands. The prime example of this is Mozambique, which in March signed a nonaggression pact with South Africa. Mozambique has until now been an important launching pad for sabotage attacks into South Africa, according to Pretoria.
But a different perception among blacks may be emerging. At a recent meeting of the Azanian People's Organization - a radical, ''black consciousness'' organization - a speaker told a boisterous crowd that ''it is senseless to look elsewhere for our freedom.''
The organization's president, Lybon Mabasa, agreed, saying, ''Liberation cannot be achieved outside our borders.''
The major objective of South Africa's regional peace initiatives is to greatly reduce the sabotage activity that has been planned and launched against South Africa from the soil of neighboring states. The outlawed African National Congress is primarily responsible for the attacks and is suspected of being behind the Durban oil refinery attack.
Bombing incidents do appear to be decreasing, but there are plenty of other signals of black discontent. Black schools have in recent years been a good barometer of black sentiment. And strife in the black schools is a regular occurrence.
Unlike the Soweto riots of 1976 and the years that followed, today's school disruptions have not become unified and so receive relatively little publicity. They remain isolated incidents. But black educators say these spontaneous outbursts at black schools all over the country demonstrate a feeling of deep frustration among the black youth.
In recent weeks a handful of black schools in a township near Pretoria have been continuously disrupted. Last week police wielding sjamboks (whips made of animal hide) waded into a crowd of 400 stone-throwing youths. Twenty students were injured. In February a young girl was killed in the same township during school unrest.
Perhaps the most worrisome sign regarding South Africa's internal problems is the apparent lack of any common ground on where real reform begins.
South Africa's new constitution, to be implemented this August, brings Coloreds (persons of mixed race descent) and Indians into Parliament as junior members. But blacks will remain excluded from government.
The government's explanation of why blacks are excluded is that blacks are following a different constitutional path. But to demonstrate that the white government is open to some measure of change in black status, the government has established a committee to look into the position of blacks living in ''white'' urban areas.
Van Wyk's survey found that white politicians continue to think the method to involve urban blacks in government is to link them with the 10 rural black ''homelands.''
But to blacks, this amounts to the same old unacceptable approach of the ruling whites trying to deflect blacks into the poor tribal ''homelands'' while denying them any meaningful political rights in South Africa. Eventually, the Pretoria government intends to make all the homelands ''independent,'' an action that cancels the blacks' South African citizenship and makes them exclusively citizens of the homelands.
South Africa has been somewhat successful in addressing black grievances in the economic field. Blacks have been given trade union rights on a par with whites. And a small group of urban blacks is earning a greater share of South Africa's material wealth through better jobs, higher wages, and structural improvements in the communities in which they live.
But South Africa's economy is struggling to recover from two years of recession. The seriousness of situation was driven home last week with the announcement that in July the sales tax would be raised from 7 percent to 10 percent. This economic step can only prolong the recession and raise black unemployment, analysts say. Some worry that South Africa will not grow fast enough to accommodate the expanding black labor force.