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Star S.African activist launches party to challenge ANC

Published on 18/02/2013

Top former World Bank official and anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele launched a political party Monday to challenge the ruling ANC in her highly-anticipated entry into politics.

“Today I announce that I am working with a group of fellow citizens to form a party political platform that will focus on rekindling hope that building the country of our dreams is possible in our lifetime,” Ramphele, 65, said in Johannesburg.

Named Agang, a Sepedi word that means “Let’s build”, the movement would respond “to the yearnings of citizens who have largely stood on the sidelines for lack of an appropriate political home,” she added.

The party will contest the 2014 national elections.

“We will be going around the country consulting with ordinary citizens, having conversations about rekindling the South African dream,” she told reporters.

A former World Bank managing director and trained medical doctor, Ramphele has been vocal in criticising the African National Congress, which dominates politics, and Monday’s announcement ends weeks of speculation she would enter politics in Africa’s largest economy.

“Our country is at risk because self-interest has become the driver of many of those in positions of authority who should be focused on serving the public,” she said.

“Corruption, nepotism and patronage have become the hallmarks of the conduct of many in public service.”

Ramphele, who last week resigned as chairwoman of leading gold miner Gold Fields to prepare for her political career, called for profound economic restructuring following months of deadly wage-strikes in the mine and agriculture sectors.

“The mining sector’s business model based on reliance on the migrant labour system and large numbers of low-cost, low-skilled labour is unsustainable,” she said.

Mines and farms “have to migrate to a business model that invests in skills of its workers, uses innovative technologies to remain competitive and create new type of jobs and opportunities for all,” she added.

The former University of Cape Town vice-chancellor also called for a turn-around in education.

“It is woeful, shameful that we should have such low expectations of young South Africans that we are prepared to accept 30 percent as a pass mark for school leavers.”

As a highly educated black woman with a solid history of anti-apartheid struggle, including a one-time relationship with slain Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, Ramphele has a formidable profile in a nation obsessed with identity politics.

She dismissed talk that her party would appeal mostly to the educated elite, given her academic background and business connections.

“I am no elite, I refuse to allow people to define me as such. I can identify with people from all backgrounds,” she said.

Talks between Ramphele and the main opposition Democratic Alliance party about forming a single party to take on the ANC had failed, media reports said, though Ramphele downplayed any hint of friction.

“We are having conversations, there is no talk of a broken deal, we continue to be in talks with various South Africans,” she said, adding: “I am not a joiner.”

The ANC won 65.9 percent in 2009 polls, with the Democratic Alliance taking 16.7 percent.

Agang aims to change South Africa’s election system, where parties nominate their members of parliament, Ramphele added.

Lawmakers should be elected directly by constituencies “so we can hold them accountable for the electoral promises they make,” she said.