PRETORIA – A renowned South African anti-apartheid activist launched an opposition party Saturday to challenge the ruling African National Congress in elections next year.
Hundreds of supporters gathered in Pretoria for the formal inauguration of Agang SA by Mamphela Ramphele, 65, a respected academic who fought against white-minority rule.
She told a cheering crowd at a colorful ceremony that the birth of Agang — which means “let’s build” in the Sepedi language — offers “the hope of a better future for every South African.”
Ramphele urged voters to back her party as she lambasted the ANC for being corrupt and ineffective. “There is a desperate need for change,” she said.
The ANC has been the ruling party since 1994, when apartheid rule ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president.
“Corruption and a culture of impunity have spread throughout government and society. It steals textbooks from classrooms, it steals drugs from those living with HIV, it steals thousands of jobs and billions of rands of investment,” she said, waving her fist as she made each point.
“This is not the legacy our great leaders had in mind. This is not the country dreamed of by our beloved “Madiba” (Mandela), by Steve Biko,” said Ramphele, invoking names of great leaders in the country’s anti-apartheid struggle.
Ramphele, a medical doctor, was a member of the grass-roots Black Consciousness Movement founded by her long-term partner, Steve Biko, who was killed in police custody in 1977.
On the eve of her party’s launch, Ramphele received endorsement from Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“Few thinking South Africans would not welcome the entry into South African politics of someone of the caliber, background, intellect and resourcefulness of . . . Ramphele,” Tutu said.
She has long had a reputation as an outspoken critic of the government. At her inauguration ceremony at the University of Cape Town in 1997, Mandela said Ramphele “never hesitates to deliver some of the most painful truths when she thinks you’ve gone astray.”
Brandishing its historical legacy in the fight against apartheid, the ANC has maintained a firm grip on power, but has come under increasing pressure over its perceived failures to deliver on its promises.
Agang SA faces a challenge, with the ANC on one side and which holds nearly two-thirds majority in parliament, and Democratic Alliance, the main opposition, on the other. The ANC won 65.9 percent in 2009 polls, with the DA taking 16.7 percent.
Pledging to live by democratic values, heal the divisions of the past, improve quality of life, and build a united and democratic South Africa, Ramphele vowed to tackle “rampant corruption.”
She also promised to raise the school pass rate to 50 percent, from the current 30 percent. To curb high levels of crime, she said South African police officers need to be retrained. “This government is destroying our economy and our society,” she said.
One of her supporters, a 35-year-old technician with the public phone company Telkom in Pretoria, agreed with her.
“We have corruption going on,” and “no one in parliament seems to care,” said Mphaphuli, conceding that it will not be easy for Agang to usurp the ANC but that it can build a following that could “make these guys wake up and take the people seriously.”
Agang SA’s officials were upbeat that the party will give the ANC a tough ride at the ballot box. “That is our very clear goal, to win an election next year,” said Mills Soko, Agang’s policy director.
“We are prepared to go to the wall and win the election,” said the party’s political director, Moeketsi Mosola.
Ramphele, who is seen as a philosophical idealist, can also appear aloof to many ordinary South Africans struggling to get by.