Mamphela Ramphele
Mamphela Ramphele

As anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela lays in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital, a new political party has been formed in South Africa designed to challenge the ruling African National Congress party (ANC), long associated with Mandela himself.

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, the prominent anti-apartheid activist and a former managing director of the World Bank, has created a new political organization called “Agang” (which means “build” in the Sepedi language) in response to the perceived failures of President Jacob Zuma of the ruling ANC to tackle corruption and ease widespread poverty in the country.

Ramphele, who was also the partner of the legendary murdered anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, told her supporters in a speech over the weekend that the ANC cannot be trusted to handle the economy and suggested that the ANC -- wracked by corruption -- has not lived up to the promise and democratic ideals inspired by Mandela.

In a speech delivered before 5,000 people in the city of Tshwane, Ramphele declared: "We are here to begin the restoration of the promise of our great nation and to offer the hope of a better future for every South African. I see a great future for our country. One in which we finally realize true freedom for all -- freedom from poverty, crime and corruption; a job, a home, a life of dignity.” She added: "I am doing this for my grandchildren, for my children, and I am doing his because South Africans have an enormous unbreakable spirit that when mobilized, makes them say enough is enough.”

Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has been highly critical of the ANC, praised Ramphele. "Few thinking South Africans would not welcome the entry into South African politics of someone of the caliber, background, intellect and resourcefulness of Mamphela Ramphele," Tutu said in a statement.

BBC reported that in order to counter the powerful support that ANC still enjoys among a wide swath of black voters – indeed, the ANC has ruled South Africa for 19 years since the fall of apartheid -- Agang may seek to form a coalition, perhaps with the Democratic Alliance (DA), the country’s principal opposition party. That may be a tall order -- in the last election, in 2009, the ANC gained almost two-thirds (65.9 percent) of the popular vote and controls that proportion in the parliament. Moreover, many blacks view the DA as a “white” party.

Nonetheless, in a country where the overall unemployment rate is estimated at 40 percent (much higher for the black population) and discontent seethes over the government’s failure to provide basic services, in tandem with reports of endemic corruption among top officials in Zuma’s government, a new party could make a dent in the ANC’s foundation of support.

Disillusion with the ANC include suspicions that the government’s Black Empowerment programs has benefitted only an elite few, while some 30 billion Rand ($3 billion) in public funds are “lost” annually. "Tackling corruption is central to restoring confidence in our government and our economy. The billions lost today to corruption and waste can help us fire up the economy," Ramphele said in her speech.

Kaiser Kangwana, who supports Ramphele, said of the ANC: "They steal from us so how can we vote for them? People don't have jobs; they're still poor around here.”

But Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst with the Helen Suzman Foundation, warned that Agang is overly dependent on the charisma and appeal of just one person (Ramphele) and that may not be enough to galvanize a nationwide movement. "The only person with a profile, the only person with credibility is the party leader," she told BBC. "We have been here before and such parties have not done well."

Indeed, five years ago, a new political party called the Congress of the People (Cope) gained 7 percent of the national vote in elections, exploiting some anger with the ANC – but since that time Cope has vanished due partially to internal bickering.