New political party formed to make 1990s dream reality

  • @howden_africa

The launch of South Africa's newest political party today began with a nod to the past rather than the future. People were asked to remember the "patience and quiet dignity" of the long queues in 1994 when most South Africans got their first chance to vote. "Do you remember the dream we embraced to build ours into a great society?"

The power of the call came from the woman making it: Mamphela Ramphele, the academic and former partner of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, still seen by many as a moral voice in a country that has lost its way. She ended months of speculation at the evocative setting of Johannesburg's apartheid-era women's jail by announcing the creation of a new party, Agang, meaning "build".

"The dream has faded for the many living in poverty and destitution in our increasingly unequal society." the 65-year-old said. "The great society to which we committed ourselves following our relatively peaceful political transition is rapidly unravelling before our eyes."

Though neither were mentioned, the recent deaths of model Reeva Steenkamp – shot in a gated community – and township teenager, Anene Booysen – raped, mutilated and left for dead – were present in her description of a broken society. Her speech in which she contrasted "so much poverty in the midst of so much opulence" was studded with appalling statistics: 71 per cent of people aged between 15 and 34 – amounting to 60 per cent of the population – are unemployed.

The soaring rhetoric contrasted sharply with last week's poorly-received state of the nation address from President Jacob Zuma. The ruling ANC has already come under pressure ahead of 2014 elections by an opposition which has begun negotiations aimed at uniting parties against it. The arrival of Dr Ramphele onto the scene may remove another chunk of voters from the faltering ANC.

A former World Bank managing director and successful businesswoman, she was courted by South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance last year amid speculation that she would replace its white leader, Helen Zille.

Yesterday, as she denounced the "self interest" of South Africa's current leaders and vowed a "war on corruption", she eschewed any reference to herself as a party leader. She preferred to call herself the "bridge" between her own anti-Apartheid generation and her children's generation who had been "robbed of the fruits of freedom".