A little more than four years ago police arrived at Zanempilo, a rural health center built and operated by young blacks for blacks, and bundled the resident doctor into a car.

They drove Mamphele Ramphele more than 1,000 miles north through South Africa over the same roads her close friend, black-consciousness leader Steve Biko, would travel five months later lying naked and chained in the back of a jeep.

Biko's journey ended in a Pretoria jail cell where he died Sept. 12, 1977, from a head injury inflicted while in police detention. But Ramphele's trip took her further north, to this dusty, heat-seared black township in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains of northern Transvaal.

Ramphele, then 29 and pregnant with Biko's child, was ordered by police to remain here for the next five years under a banning order that prohibited her from engaging in any political activity or attending any gathering of more than one person, apart from family.

Her banishment to this remote township of 4,000 blacks came at a time when South Africa was in turmoil with uprisings in its urban black communities. It was meant to neutralize the political influence she exercised in the black-consciousness movement, mainly through her work at Zanempilo Clinic near King William's Town.

The health center, set up by the movement to teach blacks to rely on themselves, was confiscated by the state when black-consciousness organizations were banned in October 1977.

Despite these setbacks, Ramphele swept into the corners of her life whatever self-pity she may have felt entitled to, and plunged into duplicating in Lenyenye the work she had done in King William's Town.

A crowd of about 1,500 persons gathered recently in Lenyenye to celebrate the official opening of Ithuseng ("We help ourselves") Community Health Center. It was built with more than $80,000 in grants Ramphele raised from the South African Council of Churches, the South African mining conglomerate Anglo-American and the World University Services.

Besides this fully staffed clinic, Ramphele's behind-the-scenes organization has brought Lenyenye -- which had no resident doctor before she came -- a free milk scheme, a basic library, a rudimentary literacy program, a scholarship fund and a brick-making operation.

Since her banning order prevents Ramphele from attending such occasions as Ithuseng's opening, she had to apply to the local white magistrate for permission.

To her surprise, it was granted, on the condition that she make no speeches (the word "no" was underlined on the permit) -- not that she needed to.

"We know she is here because of 'the system,' and that makes us politically aware," Lenyenye teacher Thompson Kgaohle said.

For most of Lenyene's politically unsophisticated residents, however, their enthusiasm for Ramphele is more personal than political. At one point during the festivities the women of the township covered Ramphele's Western-style, beige chiffon dress in traditional tribal attire, hoisted her on their shoulders and danced in the streets.

"We love her," said one black teen-age girl pumping gas at a Lenyenye garage. "She's doing good work for us; she's an important person."

Encircled by citrus and sugar groves, Lenyenye lies in one of the most densely populated regions of the country, which has been gerrymandered into prosperous, white-owned farming areas and the crowded, poverty-ridden tribal reserves known as homelands that the government is pushing to become "independent" states. Lenyenye is in the homeland of Lebowa.

The average monthly wage of a Lenyenye breadwinner is about $60, which most earn working on the surrounding farms or in the shops of Tzaneen, a white town of 4,000 population 12 miles away.

The daughter of a teacher, Ramphele grew up in Pietersburg and attended Durban's University of Natal Medical School, then a hotbed of the black-consciousness movement, where she met fellow student Biko. After graduation, which put her into the ranks of about 2,000 nonwhite physicians against about 11,000 whites in all of South Africa, she joined Biko in King William's Town and helped start Zanempilo in 1974. During 1976 she was detained without trial for five months.

In Lenyenye, she lives across the street from her new clinic with her mother, brothers and son, Hlumelo, now almost 4 years old. A woven tapestry of two black hands breaking free of chains on their wrists hangs in the living room. A Bible is by her bed. Ramphele invited Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, secretary general of the South African Council of Churches, to give the main address at Ithuseng's opening.

"The government . . . laughter from the audience , the government, which we did not elect more laughter , thought they were destroying Mamphela," Tutu said. "They say we are notoriously slow thinkers, but we would still like to know why they took her away from King William's Town, where she was doing splendid work, where she was teaching people to be healthy.

"They say that was political laughter , just as everything we as blacks do is political louder laughter . This is a system that does not want us to do things for ourselves. It's a system in which the white man wants to do things for us," the bishop said.

Few of the whites who live in a 100-mile radius of here -- some of whom refer to her only as "that lady" -- know much about Ramphele. As a banned person, she cannot be quoted in newspapers or give speeches. Although she hears indirectly that some white officials praise her work in Lenyenye, even some in the security police, they have given her no open or official thanks or recognition.

Oliver Venables, a local white farmer who attended the clinic's opening, is conspicious in Tzaneen for his minority views. He marvels at Ramphele and fears that when her banning order expires next April the government may move her someplace else "where the only thing she can organize is the stones."

Concerned about the ignorance about black thinking among local whites, Venables grasped at the opportunity of Tutu's presence in the area to invite him to a service at his Anglican church in Tzaneen. Tutu, who has been under attack from government ministers as a subversive because of his outspoken demands for black political power-sharing, accepted. But when Venables informed the church warder, she threatened to lock the church doors if Tutu appeared and said he would only enter it "over my dead body."

This is the same Anglican church where Ramphele worships every Sunday -- the only black in the pews -- because there is no Anglican parish in Lenyenye. But since she is banned, the church warder does not know Ramphele and Tutu hold many of the same political views.