Winnie Mandela, wife of jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, held an 80-minute meeting with her husband Monday to find out what happened during his secret talks with President Pieter W. Botha last week.

Amid increasing speculation authorities may be preparing to release the black nationalist leader, Mrs. Mandela declined comment on her meeting, saying at Cape Town's airport she wanted to consult with church leaders in Johannesburg before issuing a statement later in the day."This was not an ordinary family visit; we were sent by the community," Mrs. Mandela said. Asked whether she felt Mandela's freedom was any closer, she said, "The question of his release doesn't come up at all." She said her husband, who turns 71 next week, was "very well."

Mandela, jailed since 1962, is serving a life term for plotting to topple the minority white rule. Since December, he has been held in a suburban style house at a prison farm outside Cape Town in the wine region of Paarl.

Mandela's unprecedented 45-minute meeting with Botha took place at the presidential office on Wednesday - over morning tea, according to one local newspaper - but was announced Saturday only after news leaked out.

In a possible sign the government was laying the groundwork for Mandela's release, a brief announcement said both Botha and Mandela had confirmed support for "peaceful development" in South Africa.

The government has long called on Mandela to renounce violence as a political weapon as a condition of his release. But the ruling National Party's new five-year racial reform program stresses a willingness to negotiate an end to the country's racial conflict with any group "committed to peace."

Information Minister Stoffel van der Merve reiterated Sunday that no negotiations were conducted during the Botha-Mandela meeting but said the encounter put the ANC chief a step closer to freedom and participation in power-sharing negotiations.

Van der Merve said authorities had intended to keep the face-to-face session secret. Like most of South Africa, many members of the government also were unaware the meeting had occurred, he said.

Black leaders appeared divided over the meeting's significance, the white right-wing condemned it and more liberal whites said it legitimized their own meetings with exiled members of the ANC in the southern African state of Zambia.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said "there was more, in a sense, to be gained than lost," and moderate Zulu tribal leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi called it one of "the last great gestures" by the retiring Botha.

But the Rev. Frank Chikane, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, called it a "cheap propaganda ploy" intended to court international favor and sow confusion within the black community.