WHEN Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu takes his brisk dawn walk through the tree-lined streets of Bishopscourt, the dogs of affluent white residents still bark at him as if he were an intruder. As the short, energetic figure - clad in a jogging suit and sneakers - strides past the homes of the society's rich and famous, it is the black domestic workers and gardeners on their way to work who greet him.
But the hostile graffiti that once pointed the way to the archbishop's official residence - in the heart of Cape Town's most exclusive white neighborhood - has long been covered with layers of white paint.
Once reviled by many whites for his strident advocacy of sanctions and outspoken denunciation of white insensitivity to racial injustice, Tutu is seen today - even by some critics - as one of the country's most sincere and resilient peacemakers.
When he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1984 - after six years as general secretary of the anti-apartheid South African Council of Churches (SACC) - the jubilation of voiceless blacks was matched only by the prolonged silence among white South Africans.
When Tutu was elected spiritual head of the country's 1.5-million Anglicans - the majority of whom are black - there was talk among some whites about forming a breakaway church.
Despite Tutu's frequent comparison of South Africa under apartheid to Nazi Germany, and his claim that blacks would welcome invading Russians as liberators, a mass exodus of whites from the church never materialized.
While warning white leaders that violence would escalate if they maintained apartheid, he also passionately denounced black violence, intervened in several mob attacks during a nationwide black rebellion in 1985, and met former President P.W. Botha in his quest for peace.
In recent months Tutu, for years the most visible and tireless campaigner against apartheid, has stepped back from the political limelight to make way for leaders like Nelson Mandela.
``I think on the whole we should stand back,'' said Tutu on the eve of historic talks between the Government and the African National Congress (ANC). ``We have done our bit, now we should let them do theirs,'' he said.
``We want to maintain a critical distance so we can criticize what is wrong. We will need to be credible to all if we are trying to bring people together.''
Recently, Tutu called on the ANC to suspend its ``armed struggle,'' urged it to probe claims of torture by ANC dissidents, and intervened in the conflict between rival black groups in Natal province.
He said he would have resisted an invitation to serve on the ANC's negotiating team and has a problem with the decision of Afrikaner churchman Beyers Naude - also a former SACC general secretary - to do so.
``The problem is that it will merely confirm the suspicions of people who always believed that the SACC was biased in favor of the ANC,'' said Tutu.
In February this year the Anglican bishops decided to bar any ordained priest from being a card-carrying member of a political party.
``The principle is that - as a priest - you should be able to minister to all your congregants,'' he said. ``If you cannot carry out your ministry, you should resign.''
Tutu relinquished his position as a patron of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front (UDF) before he became the first black Bishop of Johannesburg in 1985.
But when the UDF and other anti-apartheid groups were outlawed in February 1988, Archbishop Tutu threw open churches for political meetings and encouraged civil disobedience and defiance of apartheid laws.
His stand - along with other church leaders - provided the moral underpinning of a nationwide campaign of defiance that played a major role in persuading President De Klerk to abandon increased repression.
Tutu has also insisted on consensus in church decisionmaking, repeatedly condemned human-rights abuses during visits to black-ruled African states, and shown police using force against militant black youths the difference between authority and power.
On the day a reporter visited Bishopscourt, it was the first celebration of May Day (May 1) as an official workers' holiday in South Africa.
The archbishop was preparing to leave later that day on a five-week tour of the United States, but he followed his structured daily routine which includes long periods of silence and prayer interspersed with official duties.
During an hour-long Eucharist in the small chapel at Bishopscourt, Tutu blended his native Xhosa language with the traditional Anglican recitations and prayers.
His activism, in the Christian tradition of ``faith without works is dead,'' has often been taken by critics as an unseemly political zeal.
But Tutu has always made it clear that he was no more than a caretaker for the authentic leaders, and that he would willingly take a back seat once they were freed.
Today - in doing just that - his public profile has lowered and his stature increased.