June 22, 2013 / 2:01 PM / 5 years ago

South Africa's first new party for five years invokes spirit of Mandela

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A leading apartheid-era activist launched South Africa’s first new political party in five years on Saturday, saying the ruling African National Congress (ANC) was destroying the continent’s biggest economy.

Despite widening schisms in the ANC and allegations of graft and poor leadership, it remains an unrivalled political machine commanding a nearly two-thirds majority in parliament.

Nevertheless, ‘Agang’, Sesotho for “let us build”, will contest 2014 elections, party leader Mamphela Ramphele said.

An anti-apartheid campaigner and partner of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, Ramphele said millions were still living like forgotten citizens and that the country had not come far enough, fast enough.

She referred to the optimism that prevailed at South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994, “We remember the outpouring of hope and joy at the release of Nelson Mandela, fist raised in defiance.”

Anti-apartheid hero and South Africa’s first black president, Mandela, 94, is in a “serious but stable” condition in hospital, the government said on Saturday.

Crowds cheer as anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele launches her new political party "Agang" to challenge South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Pretoria, June 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu - a strong anti-apartheid voice and champion of the “Free Mandela” campaign globally - has backed Ramphele, 65, saying she is a principled leader ready to take costly stands for social justice.

“Nearly 20 years into our democracy the graciousness and magnanimity that characterised our political firmament have to a great extent been surrendered at the altar of power and wealth,” Tutu said in a letter in support of Ramphele released on Friday.

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A medical doctor and former World Bank managing director, Ramphele was also placed under house arrest for seven years by the apartheid government because of her political work. She has regularly challenged authority and the ANC on its failings.

“Our country has reached a crossroads and I for one do not want to think about where we will be in five years time unless we change course,” she said in her launch speech in Pretoria.

Others are also looking to revive the dream of the “Rainbow Nation” 19 years after the end of white-minority rule. Even Julius Malema, kicked out of ANC, is looking to build a future in politics by starting his own political party.

The last party to be formed in South Africa was in 2008 when former ANC members launched the Congress of the People (COPE).

Reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas; Editing by Louise Ireland

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