THE cautious freeing of black politics in South Africa has led to the reemergence of long-dormant anti-apartheid groups. A combination of prolonged state repression and an official ``divide-and-rule'' policy have ensured a semblance of anti-apartheid unity for three decades.
But after three and a half years of rigid emergency rule, the recent relaxation of restrictions on anti-apartheid protest and the release of black leaders have brought renewed volatility to black politics and could lead to major realignments.
Already, the reemergence of groups like the outlawed Pan Africanist Congress (through its recently formed Pan Africanist Movement) and the Black Consciousness Movement (the umbrella group of 17 organizations outlawed in 1977), has begun to change the political landscape.
``As the restrictions on black political movements are lifted, one will see a shakeout of black politics before any visible moves towards unity are perceived,'' says Natal University professor Mervyn Frost. ``For this process to unfold, the government will have to keep its nerve.''
Jailed African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela has made clear - through public statements and letters to black leaders - that if blacks enter negotiations in a state of disunity they could play into the government's hands and exacerbate conflict.
Intense sensitivities between different anti-apartheid groupings were evident in the run-up to last weekend's Conference for a Democratic Future - billed as the most important anti-apartheid initiative in 34 years.
The conference was attended by some 4,600 delegates from nearly 2,000 anti-apartheid organizations. But it failed to resolve deep-seated differences. Three major anti-apartheid groupings failed to attend at all.
The 1 million-strong Zulu-based Inkatha movement of Chief Gatsha Buthelezi was not invited and did not apply to attend the conference. Instead, Chief Buthelezi will hold a rival rally in Soweto on Dec. 16.
The Pan Africanist Movement - which demands the end of all apartheid laws and return of the land to blacks before considering negotiations - did not attend because it was kept from the committee convening the conference.
The National Council of Trade Unions - which is the second largest black trade union federation and is currently involved in a power struggle between the Black Consciousness Movement and the hardline Pan Africanist Movement - withdrew at the last moment. But a third of its affiliates who support the Black Consciousness Movement broke ranks and attended.
A group of liberal white businessmen and the moderately liberal Democratic Party (a white party which takes part in segregated parliamentary politics) were accorded observer status.
Typical of the conference's thwarted goals, the ANC's so-called ``Harare Declaration'' - a plan for peaceful negotiations with the government - was adopted by the Mass Democratic Movement but not by the Black Consciousness Movement because it went ``against the grain of our policies and principles.'' It is the main focus of a major UN General Assembly debate which began yesterday.
The Black Consciousness Movement, in its zenith in the mid-1970s, was a socio-political movement drawing inspiration from the ``black power'' movement in the United States. Its best-known and most articulate advocate was Stephen Biko, who was battered to death while under police interrogation in 1977.
The Black Consciousness Movement has received little publicity in recent years, but its appearance at the well-attended conference has put it back in the political spotlight.
The more militant Pan Africanist Movement says the time for negotiation with the government has not yet arrived. Its policies are based on the anti-colonialist program of the outlawed Pan Africanist Conference. The return of land to Africans tops the PAC agenda. The group broke with the ANC in 1959 because it objected both to the decision to admit whites and to the influence of Soviet communism on the ANC through its alliance partner, the South African Communist Party.
The Africanists - who number only a fraction of ANC supporters - regard whites as ``settlers.'' At its founding conference in Soweto, Pan Africanist Movement supporters repeatedly chanted the slogan of the PAC's military wing: ``One settler, one bullet.'' Few whites have ever been accepted as PAC members.
Pan Africanist Conference leaders, who held their first conference in 29 years in Harare, Zimbabwe, three weeks ago, believe that once the ANC embarks on negotiation, the PAC could become attractive to radical blacks, particularly the militant youth.
``We're noncollaborationists,'' said Bennie Alexander, the movement's first general secretary. ``We believe in self-determination and taking our future in our own hands.''
Despite the apparent setbacks, Mass Democratic Movement conference organizers described it as ``a roaring success.'' Black Consciousness Movement leaders were less enthusiastic.
``We could not - in one day - hope to unite people who not only have such fundamental ideological differences but have in the past killed each other,'' said the Black Consciousness Movement's Mbulelo Rakwana on Monday.
``We did not go there to convert each other,'' he said. ``But we had hoped to find a program that we could support and promote despite our ideological differences.''
Ideological conflicts apparent at the conference have taken on a more menacing dimension in Natal province, where members of opposing Zulu camps are engaged in a savage war.
Three years of internecine strife between tribally oriented Zulus loyal to Buthelezi and urbanized Zulus loyal to ANC-aligned anti-apartheid groups have shattered the 7 million-strong Zulu tribe.
It has claimed the lives of some 2,000 people, but successive calls by Mr. Mandela for peace talks appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Buthelezi, who once worked alongside Mandela in the ANC's youth wing, left the ANC over its decision to opt for armed struggle and, more recently, its advocacy of punitive economic sanctions against South Africa.
Buthelezi has maintained cordial relations with Mandela, but relations with Mass Democratic Movement leaders have hit an all-time low. In recent months, he has fallen out with General Holomisa of the nominally independent Transkei homeland, heartland of the 6 million Xhosa-speaking people, a less homogeneous group than the Zulus.
But some analysts fear that Holomisa's emerging role as a sympathizer of ANC-aligned anti-apartheid groups - and the ice-breaker role being accorded Transkei in paving the way for legalizing the ANC - could revive tribal tensions between the Zulus and the Xhosas.