The position of the African National Congress, an outlawed organization dedicated to ending white control in South Africa, is going from bad to worse. Chaos and confusion appear to be spreading through the group's ranks as its leadership fails to come up with a counterstrategy to the South African government's recent successes in eliminating ANC rebel bases in neighboring states.
For several weeks the ANC has been involved in running gun battles with police in Swaziland, resulting in the deaths of two Swaziland security officers and two ANC members, along with a large number of ANC detentions.
The ANC is banned in South Africa and its most important bases in Mozambique are being closed after the nonaggression pact signed last month between that country and South Africa. As a result, many ANC members have fled to Swaziland.
The flight of ANC members from Mozambique into Swaziland was not a surprise. But their belligerence toward the Swaziland authorities, with whom they have had an uneasy but peaceful relationship in recent years, was unexpected and hints, experts say, at a confused rank and file not getting direction from the ANC's leaders. The resulting tensions produced one of the harshest confrontations yet seen between the ANC and the government of a black-ruled state in southern Africa.
The South African government no doubt enjoys the spectacle of an apparently confused ANC being denied military presence in neighboring states and now garnering open hostility.
Swaziland has indicated it may oust the organization completely from its soil. The Swaziland prime minister, Prince Bhekimpi Dlamini, said last week that because of the rising conflict, his government ''will find it difficult to continue to provide asylum to the ANC refugees in this country.''
Not all ANC members outside of South Africa are involved in the sabotage against South Africa, and their expulsion would be a stinging rebuke to the ANC.
Swaziland was one of the first states in the region to cooperate with South Africa's demand that neighboring governments not allow any ANC military activity from their soil. ANC insurgents from Mozambique had often entered South Africa through Swaziland, analysts here say.
Swaziland and South Africa adopted a ''security pact'' in early 1982, it was recently disclosed. Swaziland apparently found it politically embarrassing to acknowledge the pact until Mozambique openly signed a nonaggression accord with South Africa in March.
Swaziland, one of the smallest nations in Africa, was apparently unable to resist South African pressures on the military and economic fronts. But there was also a carrot. The pact with Pretoria coincided roughly with plans by South Africa to turn over two large tracts of land - parts of the KaNgwane and Kwazulu tribal ''homelands'' - to Swaziland. The land transfers were eventually halted but they now appear to have been part of a deal for a clampdown on the ANC.
It is estimated here that in the past month some 50 ANC members have been arrested by the Swaziland security forces. There have been two breakouts from jail by ANC members, leading to a tense security situation in the country with roadblocks on a number of the main roads in Swaziland. The Swaziland commissioner of police, Titus Msibi, appealed at the weekend for the ANC fugitives to surrender.
The armed confrontation between the ANC and the Swaziland government may also be connected to a recent car bomb explosion in South Africa, believed the work of the ANC.
The blast claimed three lives and flew in the face of Pretoria's much touted successes against the ANC.
Many analysts here believe Pretoria pressured Swaziland to move in on the ANC in the wake of the explosion.