DURBAN, South Africa (AP) _ Blacks armed with knives went on a rampage Tuesday and stabbed eight whites, raising the specter of new racial violence, authorities said.

About 20 young blacks stole knives from a store and began stabbing people along a street near the beach, police said.

''They were in a berserk state and were lashing out with knives at anyone who was near them,'' witness Robert Trulock told the independent South African Press Association.

Two suspects were shot and wounded by police, and seven were arrested, police said.

The attack may have been racially motivated, said police Lt. Nina Barkhuizen. Police were investigating the possibility that some participants wore badges of the Pan Africanist Congress, a militant black opposition group, she said.

Despite deep racial divisions and widespread violence in South Africa, there have been few cases of blacks randomly attacking whites.

Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok condemned the violence and called for private citizens to refrain from seeking revenge.

''It might be somebody trying to provoke a reaction from the white population,'' said Thabo Mbeki, a spokesman for the African National Congress.

The black youths took the knives from a store specializing in weapons from the Far East, Barkhuizen said.

They then ran down a street next to the beachfront and stabbed whites, witnesses said.

Bleeding victims staggered into the lobby of the Lonsdale Hotel and collapsed in front of horrified guests.

Eight people, ranging in age from 15 to 85, were hospitalized with stab wounds, Barkhuizen said. A hospital official said three of the white victims were in serious condition.

Patrick Lekota, an ANC official in Durban, called the attack ''a desperate attempt to discredit the liberation movement as a whole.''

About 5,000 blacks have been killed in factional fighting since 1986 in Natal Province, which includes Durban. But the violence has been almost exclusively in black areas, pitting Zulu supporters of the conservative Inkatha movement against Xhosas and other blacks linked to the ANC.

The warfare spread to black townships around Johannesburg in August, and about 800 people were killed in the ensuing weeks.

Fighting in the townships has eased recently, but strained relations remain between the white-led government and ANC.

ANC leader Nelson Mandela has accused security forces of fanning the violence, possibly at the behest of right-wing elements who oppose government- ANC peace talks on ending the apartheid system of racial segregation.

The government has denied the charges and challenged accusers to provide proof. Vlok said Tuesday that affidavits supplied to the government purportedly backing the accusations had proved to be fabrications.

Both the ANC and Inkatha oppose apartheid but differ on the shape of a future South Africa. Inkatha supports a free market economy and promotes tribalism, while the ANC promotes more leftist and pan-tribal positions.