Mamphela Ramphele, the former chairwoman of Gold Fields Ltd., said she’s forming a political party to challenge the ruling African National Congress because corruption and inequality are ruining Africa’s biggest 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,” Ramphele said today in a speech in Johannesburg. “Corruption, nepotism and patronage have become the hallmarks of the conduct of many in public service.”
Ramphele has criticized the ANC’s failure to improve schooling and reduce the 25 percent unemployment rate. The ANC has governed South Africa since taking power under Nelson Mandela in the first all-race elections in 1994 and controls almost two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.
Ramphele, 65, resigned as chairwoman of Gold Fields last week and said she will step down from other private-sector directorships. She is a former managing director of the World Bank and an ex-director of Anglo American Plc.
A medical doctor and social anthropologist, Ramphele was once a partner of anti-apartheid leader Steve Biko, who founded South Africa’s Black Consciousness Movement and died in 1977 after sustaining brain damage during a beating while in police custody.
The working name for Ramphele’s party is Agang, which she translated as “Build South Africa.” It will seek to “wage war” against corruption, which now dominates South Africa’s public service, she said. So far it has five members, Ramphele said.
“An unchecked culture of impunity and the abuse of power as well as public resources rob children, young people, rural and urban poor people of the fruits of freedom,” she said.
Ramphele said she will campaign to change the electoral system so voters choose their lawmakers directly and to restructure the economy so it benefits all. The mining industry, which relies on low-cost labor, is unsustainable, she said.
Income inequality has widened since 1994, with 35 percent of the population living on less than $51 a month. The Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality in which a reading of zero means society is totally equal, worsened to 0.63 in 2009 compared with 0.59 in 1993, according to the World Bank.
“There is no justification for so much poverty amidst so much opulence in our society,” Ramphele said.
Ramphele said she has held discussions with other opposition parties, including the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People.
“We are going to work deliberately to reduce the fragmentation in the current political landscape,” Ramphele said. “We are going to work with those who subscribe to the principles I outlined.”
Agang is likely to draw support mostly from the DA and Cope rather than the ANC, according to Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Johannesburg-based Helen Suzman Foundation.
“For us, middle class and chattering class, this was wonderful,” Matshiqi said in an interview. “If I was working class, there was very little there for me.”
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