The United States government is increasingly being viewed as a defender, even a promoter of white minority rule in South Africa. That is the view of one of the most prominent black activists in this country -- Winnie Mandela.
President Reagan is showing himself to be "no friend of the black people of South Africa," Mrs. Mandela says.
His statements on relations with South Africa make it "quite clear he's going to promote apartheid," she adds.
Apartheid is South Africa's pervasive system of racial separation and control , by which the 20 percent white minority here holds sway over an increasingly restive black majority. It is a system doomed to a violent end, predicts Mrs. Mandela. And when the end comes, she says, the US will find itself on the losing side.
Mrs. Mandela is the wife of African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela, who is serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison on Robben Island for attempting the overthrow of the government here. Mrs. Mandela herself is "banned" -- a punishment amounting to house arrest -- and banished to this out-of-the-way farming hamlet in the Orange Free State province.
President Reagan has not made many public utterances about South Africa, but what little he has said has stirred strong emotions among blacks and whites here. The white minority government has been hearttened by his commitment to maintain links with South Africa as long as "sincere and honest" efforts were under way here to end apartheid.
But the reform rhetoric of the ruling National Party government is "purely artificial and offers no solutions to our country's problems," Mrs. Mandela says.
And, she adds, neither does the emerging policy of the United States.
In an interview with this newspaper, Mrs. Mandela:
* Charged that the white South African government's policies have stoked black resentment here to the point where a violent revolution is now "inevitable."
* Strongly criticized Western investment in South Africa, arguing it contributes to the continued "enslavement" of black workers.
* Defended the right of blacks here to accept aid from any quarter -- including the Soviet bloc -- in order to bring about "their own liberation."
Her words may not be welcome in many circles, but they are hard to ignore. For, due to her husband's standing in the black community and her own background , Winnie Mandela occupies a pivotal role in black resistance politics here.
However, she cannot move out of Brandfort -- a town with only one main street and a motley collection of buildings -- without government permission. South African newspapers are forbidden to publish any of her words. She is not allowed to attend public gatherings, nor to be in the company of more than one other person at a time.
The South African security police shadow her constantly. (This interview took place during a rare lapse in police surveillance.) Despite these onerous restrictions, she remains a keeper of the flame of black nationalism here -- feared by the country's white rulers and held in near-reverence by many blacks.
Mrs. Mandela, an articulate, attractive woman, is uncompromising in her denunciation of white minority rule. Yet she says she remains committed to "nonracialism." During the course of a wide-ranging interview, she referred to one white woman as "more of a sister to me than the ones I was born with" and insisted that all South Africans, regardless of race, would have a place in a majority- ruled South Africa.
"We have one goal," she says. "To overthrow a minority government -- a settler government."
That government, she observes, is aiding in its own destruction by continuing to pursue white supremacist ideology in the face of growing black resentment.
"If you strip men of each and every right, you can only organize them into a force to be reckoned with. . . . The government is actually organizing the masses for us."
Is the government taking steps to defuse a future conflict?
"None whatsoever," she states firmly. "Violence in this country," she says, "is inevitable."
But it is the South African government, she insists, that is responsible for the escalation of violence. Each time black resistance wells up, she says, the government falls back on indiscriminate violent force to restore order. That policy, according to Mrs. Mandela, is now leading to entirely predictable results.
"They have created a revolution," she says, "and then they blame it on us."
Positions have hardened so much, especially over the past five ye ars, that "there's no longer any point in talking," she says.
Blacks now are attempting to meet the government on its own terms, she explains, and are prepared to accept aid from any source.
"For my liberation," she says, "I am even prepared to use the devil himself."
"IF anyone wants to remove this yoke from my neck, I will welcome him with open arms," she adds.
If the United States government will not provide support for the struggle to prevent minority rule, she says, it should at least drop all trade, sporting, and diplomatic links with Pretoria -- which, she says, act to buttress the white regime.
"We want an end to our struggle. America could do us a favor by just getting out of our way."
But in its zeal to counter the Soviets, she says, the US is giving encouragement to the Pretoria government. Blacks are receiving a clear message from the new US administration, she says: It is that America is more concerned about investments in this country than with the rights of the majority of South Africa's people.
"Each one of [those] investments in this country means a prolonging of our struggle," she states flatly.
"We're sick and tired of this nonsense of being told it's the black man who will suffer if those investments are ruled out."
"When we ask for disinvestment in this country, we know exactly what we are talking about," she continues. "Investing in this country does not mean prosperity for the black man.
"He still remains earning his slave wages, unemployed in his thousands, subjected to the humiliations of influx control. . . . It doesn't make any difference."
Yet she professes to have no doubts that years of struggle will ultimately be vindicated.
"I am thoroughly convinced of our victory," she says, adding that "no road to liberation bypasses prisons, bypasses exiles."
But Winnie Mandela concedes that the victory may well entail massive human suffering.
"Nobody wants a bloodbath. And yet, it is inevitable. The white man has driven us to a state of war.And we are at war. Can there by any worse suffering than th at?"