JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Thousands of people poured into the streets of the Bophuthatswana black homeland's capital tonight, dancing and looting. Soldiers and police reportedly joined in street dances that could signal the collapse of rule of the homeland leader.

The whereabouts of homeland President Lucas Mangope was not immediately known. But with security forces joining protesters, it appeared he had lost control of the nominally independent territory.

The apparent ouster of Mangope followed four days of riots and strikes by university students and civil servants demanding they be allowed to vote in South Africa's April 26-28 national election.

A change in leadership would mark a major victory for the African National Congress, which earlier today demanded the South African government intervene to force Mangope's participation in the election.

Mangope, a fierce opponent of the ANC - the likely election winner - had vowed to keep Bophuthatswana independent despite a new post-apartheid constitution calling for the homelands to return to South African rule and for their residents to vote.

The homeland is one of 10 created under apartheid to confine blacks to their own states.

With Pretoria's support, Bophuthatswana declared itself ''independent'' in 1977. Its people were stripped of their South African citizenship, and Bophuthatswana set up its own security forces and passed its own constitution.

But pressure on Mangope to accept reincorporation has grown in the run-up to the election, and this afternoon hundreds of Bophuthatswana police dropped their loyalty and joined protesters.

One witness told The Associated Press there were thousands of people around the homeland's Parliament building, with soldiers and police joining them in street dances.

A large shopping center had been completely looted, said the witness, David Van Wyk, a spokesman for striking teachers.

''The police are dancing in the streets with the people,'' Van Wyk said by telephone from the capital Mmabatho. He said they had looted a shopping complex that was built with millions of dollars from a civil servants' pension fund.

Hours earlier, President F.W. de Klerk hinted at action against the ruler but said he still hoped negotiations would end Mangope's resistance to the election.

''We have a responsibility to all of those who have the right to vote. We won't wash our hands and stand aside,'' de Klerk said after speaking with ANC leader Nelson Mandela.

About 200 Bophuthatswana policemen had gathered today at the South African embassy in Mmabatho to demand reincorporation into South Africa and participation in the election.

It was the first evidence of a split in the security forces that enforce Mangope's repression of opposition groups.

Shops were shuttered and rock-strewn streets were deserted today as workers in Bophuthatswana observed a general strike.

Running battles between homeland security forces and protesters injured 37 people Wednesday. But today, although minor battles erupted and a military spotter plane circled the capital, there were no new casualty reports.

The clashes, which began Monday, marked the worst unrest in the nominally independent territory since 1988, when rebel soldiers briefly detained Mangope and several Cabinet ministers. South African security forces intervened and returned Mangope to power, but five people died in the aborted coup.

South Africa's current government has balked at intervening in Bophuthatswana, wary of the likelihood of bloodshed.

Meanwhile, three members of a Reuters Television crew said they were dragged from their car today and beaten with batons, whips and fists by Bophuthatswana police near Mafikeng, outside Mmabatho.

''They pulled us out of our car, tore off our bullet-proof vests, beat us up, chucked our equipment and told us to leave,'' one of the men, Paul Arubicek, told the South African Press Association.

Police accused them of littering the street with stones.

Another journalist from the South African Broadcasting Corp. said he was pulled from his car at a police roadblock in the capital, beaten, and warned he would be shot if he returned.

Bophuthatswana, homeland of the Tswana tribe, comprises seven disjointed sections in the northeast, has a population of 2.5 million people and depends on South African aid.