South Africa's black consciousness leaders rekindle role in politics
Johannesburg — September is usually a month for looking back for South Africa's blacks as they honor the ''black consciousness'' movement and the death of its key leader, Steve Biko, in 1977.
This year is different. An infusion of new leadership and a general stirring in black politics has given the adherents of black consciousness hope of a new thrust forward.
The revitalizing forces at work in the black consciousness movement have been recognized in a backhanded way by South Africa's white-minority government: It promptly banned all black consciousness meetings in Johannesburg and Soweto two weeks ago. Last year, the government showed no concern over the commemoration activities.
Another sign of the government's grudging new respect for black consciousness is the recent detention of officials of the Azanian People's Organization. AZAPO is the main black consciousness group in South Africa.
Peter Jones is one of a number of original black consciousness activists who were jailed or banned in the late 1970s and are now reemerging in AZAPO. He came out from under a banning order in July.
Mr. Jones was a close associate of Steve Biko and was to be the chief speaker at many of the banned weekend meetings. Jones made these main points in an interview:
* Black consciousness - a philosophy of black self-assertion - should remain committed to its policy of not working with whites.
* Black consciousness should now stand more clearly than in the past for ''socialism'' and against the ''racial capitalism'' that dominates this country's white-run economy.
* There is a ''crisis'' within the ruling white Afrikaner class. The government's proposed new constitution, bringing Coloreds and Indians into government while excluding the black majority, is an attempt to ''adapt to the demands of today without losing their position of power.''
* Black consciousness forces should not join in with the United Democratic Front, a recently formed coalition of black organizations dedicated to opposing the white government's new constitution. One of Jones's key objections to the UDF is the involvement of liberal whites in the organization.
Jones's main contribution to black consciousness in its early days was as an organizer. And those skills could come in handy in his new association with AZAPO.
AZAPO, launched in 1979, has in the view of many political analysts been more of a mouthpiece for black consciousness than a true movement. But there are signs of a push to rekindle more grass-roots support.
At AZAPO's annual congress earlier this year, former activists were added to the national executive board. Muntu Myeza and Saths Cooper, both of whom served prison terms for their black consciousness activities, were elected to the AZAPO board.
Jones was an organizer for the Black People's Convention (BPC), formed in 1972 as an adult and more overtly political outgrowth of the South African Students' Organization, the earlier black consciousness group. The BPC and all other movements connected with black consciousness were banned in 1977 and key figures were arrested.
Disagreement between AZAPO and the UDF shows important divisions in black politics, particularly on the involvement of whites. But Jones says the dispute is not ''retrogressive.'' He says, ''I can only see good things resulting from the intense debate. . . .''