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Rights Activist Enters Race for South African Presidency

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By Rush Perez
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Jan. 29 (GIN) – The largest opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has announced that anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele will be their Presidential candidate for this year’s elections which take place in April. Helen Zille, the president of the DA, stated that there was “no better person” for the Presidential nomination.

Ramphele, who heads her own independent party, has taking on the ruling ANC with scathing critiques, denouncing “a culture of corruption and impunity seeping through every level of government and corroding our entire society”. In particular she cited the state spending on a massive compound for Zuma and his family in the village of Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.

“Let us be clear,” she said in a press briefing. “These are not just bumps on the road to a better future… They are a betrayal of the founding principles of our democracy; a betrayal of what our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers fought and died for.

It is estimated that South Africa loses $2.75 billion to corruption each year.

Ms Ramphele’s party, “Agang” – a Northern Sotho word meaning “to build” – was founded one year ago in response to various scandals which have dogged the African National Congress (ANC). Its charter calls for a restructuring of the South African economy and education system. However budget problems and a difficulty in branding a coherent message meant that the party made little impact over the past year.

Zille, the premier of the Western Cape, former mayor of Cape Town and a white woman, was once a prominent journalist who refuted claims by the apartheid government that Black Consciousness activist Steve Biko died on a hunger strike while in detention. Her story, in the Rand Daily Mail, showed that Biko in fact died of grave head injuries.

Ms Ramphele is viewed positively by many South Africans for her “struggle credentials” as well as for her relationship with activist Biko. After the fall of apartheid Ms Ramphele was a managing director at the World Bank, a vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town and a board member of a major mining company. Many analysts have speculated that the nomination of Ms Ramphele is a nod to the DA’s efforts to make in-roads into the Black African majority.

President Jacob Zuma, meanwhile, is seeking re-election at a time of growing disenchantment with the party’s failure to address income inequality, police brutality, labor disputes, and the prevalence of rape.

The ANC will also be challenged by the Economic Freedom Fighters led by former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema – a highly controversial figure who was expelled from the ANC.

Thus this year’s elections may see the political ground finally starting to shift in South Africa.

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