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Former South African Defense Minister to Lead New COPE Party


Defectors from South Africa's ruling African National Congress have named former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota as the leader of their new party. The Congress of the People was formally launched Tuesday and plans to compete in elections due early next year.

Former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota accepted the leadership of the Congress of the People before cheering supporters in the central city of Bloemfontein and told them that the history of South Africa would never be the same.

"On behalf of the leadership of the Congress of the People I take this opportunity to extend our collective gratitude to you for bestowing on us such confidence as to entrust with the responsibility to lead our new party, the Congress of the People," said Lekota.

He pledged to fight unemployment and poverty, strengthen the culture of democracy and build a non-racial nation.

Lekota and several other leaders split from the ruling African National Congress after the ANC leadership in October obliged then-President Thabo Mbeki to resign with six months remaining in his term.

The resignation brought to a head a growing rift with supporters of former vice president Jacob Zuma who was elected ANC president one year ago during a confrontational party congress.

Zuma is the frontrunner to become South Africa's next president in elections due early next year, but he faces corruption charges that his supporters say are politically motivated.

Zuma addressed supporters at a rally in the same city marking Reconciliation Day, which is aimed at fostering national unity after decades of apartheid.

"As South Africans we all went through enormous suffering," said Zuma. "Without forgetting the past we must move into the future together as one nation."

He noted that since the ANC came to power following the end of apartheid 14 years ago many gains had been achieved. But he acknowledged that his party had sometimes focused too much on governance and neglected the need of the people for jobs and more social services.

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