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New S.African party launches to break ANC grip on power


A renowned South African anti-apartheid activist on Saturday launched a new opposition party to challenge the ruling ANC in elections next year.

Hundreds of supporters gathered in Pretoria for the formal launch of Agang SA by Mamphela Ramphele, 65, a respected academic who fought against white-minority rule.

She told a cheering crowd at a colourful ceremony that the birth of Agang -- which means "Let's Build" in the local Sepedi language -- offered "the hope of a better future for every South African".

Ramphele urged voters to back her party as she lambasted the African National Congress (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 anti-apartheid struggle.

Ramphele, a medical doctor, was a member of the grassroots anti-apartheid 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 laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

"Few thinking South Africans would not welcome the entry into South African politics of someone of the calibre, background, intellect and resourcefulness of... Ramphele," said Tutu.

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 formidable ANC on one side and which holds nearly two thirds majority in parliament, and Democratic Alliance (DA), 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 per cent, from the current 30 per cent. To curb high levels of crime, she said South African police officers needed to be retrained.

"This government is destroying our economy and our society," she said.

One of her supporters, a 35-year-old Telkom technician in Pretoria, agreed with her.

"I'm sure everyone has seen what's going on in the country," said Mphaphuli.

"We have corruption going on," and "no one in parliament seems to care," said Mphaphuli, conceding that it would not be easy for Agang to usurp the ANC but could build a following that could "make these guys wake up and take the people seriously".