Johannesburg — South Africa's apparent easing of restrictions on prominent black activist Winnie Mandela is unlikely to dent black skepticism and bitterness toward the white government. Even as Mrs. Mandela returned to her family home in Soweto yesterday, black church leader Bishop Desmond Tutu said for the first time that he favored worldwide economic sanctions against South Africa. He has threatened to take such a position on various occasions.
During the last 19 months, nearly 1,400 people have died in violence accompanying the struggle by South Africa's blacks for an end to apartheid, the government's policy of forced racial segregation.
In a news conference symptomatic of the widening gap between the black and white people here, the black Anglican declared: ``I have no hope of real change in this government . . . unless they are forced.'' He said his efforts had failed to pursuade the government to dismantle apartheid.
Lawyers have never been able to offer a clear-cut assessment of whether people like Tutu risk prosecution by advocating economic sanctions againt South Africa. Tutu said Wednesday that the threat of government action would not have deterred him. He further stated that economic measures from abroad should be ``concerted, united,. . .and immediate.''
Mrs. Mandela was also bleak in remarks to reporters. And she dismissed, as a ruse, intermittent government statements about freeing her jailed husband, who is the leader of the most prominent black nationalist movement, the outlawed African National Congress. Since 1963, Nelson Mandela has been serving a life sentence for plotting a revolution.
Mrs. Mandela's precise legal status was unclear at time of writing Wednesday evening. Her lawyer said she had returned to Soweto because the government had decided not to contest an appeal of the order that has barred her from living there for nearly a decade. There was no immediate police move to keep her out of Soweto Wednesday.
The government has been letting such bans -- which restrict a person's activities -- lapse, since a court nullified one of them last month. But a spokesman declined to confirm that the banning order had been revoked, saying only that the government's law and order minister made a practice of reviewing such things ``on a continual basis.''
Mandela remains a ``listed'' person -- which means, by law, the South African news media may not quote her.
Even the return to school Wednesday by thousands of black students -- forgoing a nationwide boycott at least for the present -- provides little hope for reconciliation between the government and its black political foes.
``We parents felt they should be in school, and they accept that. But they are there halfheartedly. They will be concentrating on political matters, organizing themselves,'' remarked one father.
The moves for conciliation that are visible involve President Pieter W. Botha, white officials in the Province of Natal on the Indian Ocean, and the conservative ruler of the neighboring black territory of KwaZulu, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi.
A conference opens today in Durban on Chief Buthelezi's design for regional power-sharing between KwaZulu and Natal.
President Botha, meanwhile, is expected to flesh out in Parliament, over the next two months, his program for gradual reform of the country's race-relations policy. His most specific pledge in this regard has been to eliminate by July 1 the system of ``pass laws'' that control where blacks can live and work in South Africa.
But blacks in Soweto and other urban townships are skeptical, expecting that the government will introduce similar restrictions in a new wrapping.
And even Buthelezi has signaled doubts about the Botha reform strategy -- declining, so far, a call by the President for black leaders to join a consultative council on new race-related laws.