Defectors from South Africa's ruling ANC on Tuesday launched a new party with former defense minister Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota as leader aiming to make an impact in elections next year.
The Congress of the People (COPE) branded itself as a non-racial movement and is viewed as a potential threat to the African National Congress' 14-year hold on South African politics.
"The history of South Africa will never be the same again," Lekota told 4,000 delegates at the party's official launch.
"Ours shall be a truly non-racial party that will provide a true home to all South Africans irrespective of race, class or gender."
The party's launch marked a dramatic shake-up of South Africa's politics, which have been dominated by the ANC since the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela was elected the country's first black president.
COPE was formed by disgruntled ANC members and government ministers who quit office after the ruling party asked Thabo Mbeki to resign as president.
"We are the party of the future," Lekota said, saying that poverty, crime, unemployment and HIV-AIDS remained the country's greatest challenges.
Chants of "our Lekota" greeted the 60-year-old at a public rally where he urged thousands of supporters to campaign for the party ahead of next year's polls.
"Go to your communities and build support for COPE so that when elections come we are ready," he said.
The former leader of South Africa's richest province Gauteng and one-time trade union boss, Mbhazima Shilowa was named as Lekota's deputy, and Lynda Odendaal as second deputy president.
Lekota was defense minister from 1999 to 2008 when he quit office after the ruling party ousted Mbeki.
Known as "Terror" for his skills on the soccer field, Lekota was a political prisoner on Robben Island alongside anti-apartheid icons such as Mandela.
The party's formation has been marked by intense confrontation with ANC supporters and junior political partners who have disrupted party meetings and fired verbal attacks against the breakaway faction.
The ANC held a parallel gathering in Bloemfontein at which party chief Jacob Zuma admitted the ruling party had made mistakes.
"We have learnt from the mistakes of the past 15 years, especially the manner in which we may have, to some degree, neglected the people's movement in our focus on governance," Zuma said.
Political polls indicate that COPE could dent the ANC's near 70% majority rule, but analysts also said the new party could hurt the main opposition Democratic Alliance which is seen as an elitist white party.
University of Free State analyst Choice Makhetha said South Africans were hungry for a party that honored promises and led by example.
"I think the launch of COPE should be the biggest wake-up call for the ANC, he said.
COPE has already attracted nearly 500,000 supporters, according to party leaders, but rumors of more high-profile defections have yet to materialize.© Wire reports