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Alexander, Amanda & Lwandile, Sisilana  (2005) In the footsteps of Biko. Mail & Guardian : -.

Still nascent and largely underground, black thought is rising. On websites, in niche magazines and occasionally in the mass media, a new generation of black intellectuals is reinterpreting history and the present.

Our generation of young black thinkers realise that there is a fundamental lack of black thought that interrogates the now, which dissents and demands, and which engages with reality honestly enough to find it desperately in need of change.

Three projects to that end stand out, but there are many others. Chimurenga, the Cape Town-based magazine edited by Cameroonian Ntone Edjabe, by its very name locates itself within the long unfinished journey to free the mind in order to free the land.

The Kenyan offering Kwani? is the first literary journal to emerge in that country after Moi's nationalist project morphed into state power.

Finally, there is the South Africa-based We Write: We Write What We Like website.

As the title suggests, the name of the We Write site was inspired by the black consciousness leader Steve Biko, whose picture adorns the website's homepage.

The We Write project evolved from an online discussion list populated by black poets, activists, filmmakers, lawyers, students, journalists and academics from across the world into an online journal, with print versions and mass public forums to follow.

The We Write project has ferociously debated whether Biko was a socialist or whether he would have joined his contemporaries, such as Barney Pityana, who have moved closer to the African National Congress.

In certain cases, some have suggested that Biko was, like the Pan Africanist Congress founding leader Robert Sobukwe, a social-democrat whose socialist views were at a nascent stage when he was killed.

The three projects are united and defined by the common experiences of their editors and contributors. They realise that despite certain political gains of the last century, bright black students can earn their way into the classrooms of Harvard and Oxford only to have their professors ask which sport they were recruited to play.

They recognise that land dispossession continues to impact on the lives of blacks from Kenya to South Africa to Brazil; that darker people are strip-searched like criminals in the airports of the world's metropoles; that Aids shortens the lives of poor blacks at disproportionate rates in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States.

Black thinkers who wish to rescue democracy from its intrinsic ties to market economy have forged these spaces so that they might find their dignity through dissent. They are not seeking "empowerment" - whether used in the NGO or black economic empowerment sense.

Scepticism of racialised power and authority (in whatever colour) is deeply entrenched in black minds and often comes up for debate.

For good reason, they doubt whether those in power can pride themselves of having such authority when 40% of the population is unemployed; when thousands of people continue to be without basic services such as education, water and electricity; and when black people are continuously asked to prove their intelligence, competence and humanity.

Black intellectuals are searching for new notions of power, a power that facilitates and enhances. In moving toward that point, they are discussing the penetration of South African capital into the rest of the continent; giving Marx a hip-hop analysis and Chinua Achebe a township critique; and worshipping, trashing and revisiting Biko with a fresher contemporary outlook.

Big questions remain: Will these projects cease to be confined within a small middle class? Will the new black thought uprising connect with the people to push beyond the categorisation of freedom as an Reconstruction and Development Programme house?

Amanda Alexander and Lwandile Sisilana are members of the We Write editorial collective

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