Can a good Christian also be a proponent of apartheid?
That is the question posed unabashedly in Land of Fear, Land of Courage (NBC, Sunday, 5-6 p.m. Check local listings for day and time; or if not scheduled, call station manager of local NBC affiliate for information).
Its answer is an unabashed ''No!'' The morality of apartheid (South Africa's officially imposed separation of the races) is given no-holds-barred, antagonistic treatment in this NBC News special produced by the NBC News Television Religious Programs Unit in association with the National Council of Churches.
Unfortunately, even if the immorality of apartheid is obvious to most people, there is no attempt to give the official point of view so viewers can at least understand the government's justification for apartheid.
Written and produced by Helen Marmor, with superb cinematography by South African cameraman Kevin Harris, ''Land of Fear'' is not merely a diatribe against the policy of apartheid, by which some 83 percent of the people of South Africa are denied citizenship in their own land. It is an indelible lesson in sociological geography, as it tracks black South Africans to their Bantustan homelands. It presents an unforgettable picture of the shacks and tents in the 10 tribal homelands set aside for blacks, to which 2 1/2 million blacks have been taken from their homes and moved in the past 30 years.
Very little of this kind of on-the-scene pictorial journalism has made its way out of southern Africa in recent years. It is surprising that some of the revealing footage aired in this ''religious'' special has not somehow found its way to regular NBC News shows (scheduled, one hopes, in better time periods than ball game Sunday afternoons). Certainly, this ''religious'' documentary need not bow in deference to any other NBC News documentary.
Despite the official policy that denies blacks the right to vote, own homes, travel, and work freely, or even protest against these injustices, the population, white and black, is still afraid, according to narrator Edwin Newman. ''The whites, afraid they will lose their privilege and power; the blacks, afraid they will starve or be banished from their homelands or be jailed without trial or charges.''
''Land of Fear'' talks to two Anglican bishops, one black and one white, both of whom are leaders in the fight against racial repression. Although speaking separately, both seem to agree that white South Africans now have only a choice ''between deliberate 'suicide' and a risk with a chance if they prove ready to move right now for change.''
For those anti-apartheid activists who wish to have their protestations confirmed, ''Land of Fear'' offers solid pictorial and factual reinforcement. In its quiet although incessantly moralistic way, it is an unanswerable intellectual and visual condemnation of a system that survives by racial separation and repression. But it offers little in the way of explanation to those who would like to hear the moral rationale for the mystery of apartheid.
Ironically, the main weakness of this documentary may lie in its partisan strength. One has only to hear the multiracial church choir at the end of this documentary intone the unofficial native anthem, ''God Bless Africa/Bless all her children, too,'' to understand the depth of feeling that helps to make ''Land of Fear, Land of Courage'' such an extraordinary piece of advocacy journalism.