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South African opposition party Democratic Alliance elect first black leader

South Africa's Democratic Alliance, the country's main opposition party, has elected its first black leader. The move is seen as a major step to widen the party's appeal in a country deeply divided along racial lines.

The Democratic Alliance, long seen as a political party representing the country's middle class white population, elected 34-year-old Mmusi Maimane as party leader on Sunday after Helen Zille stood down after eight years in office.

Beginning his victory speech in his native Xhosa language, the newly elected Maimane told delegates he would fight for a fairer South African society with equal opportunities for all.

"We can transcend racial inequality, but this can only happen if every South African acknowledges the injustice of apartheid and if we all recognize that racial inequality of the past still remains with us today," Maimane told a cheering audience.

"Many young South Africans continue to be denied access to opportunities, just as their parents were during apartheid - this is what we must change if we are going to succeed as a nation," he added.

At the conclusion of his victory speech, Maimane thanked his wife, who is white, before receiving a standing ovation.

'Obama of Soweto'

Sunday's party room vote signaled "a milestone for the Democratic Alliance and South African politics," said an editorial in the Sunday Times newspaper.

"For much of the past two decades, our political contest has been a black-versus-white affair, with the ANC seen as the part of the previously oppressed and the DA as a party of white interests," the editorial read.

Maimane grew up in Soweto, the heartland of the anti-apartheid resistance movement, but broke his family's ties to the African National Congress to join the Democratic Alliance in 2009.

Dubbed the "Obama of Soweto," a comparison Maimane has rejected, he was elected the party's parliamentary leader in 2014. He has often disagreed with ruling ANC lawmakers and President Jacob Zuma.

Some analysts said Maimane's election would not automatically attract the young urban working class voters it is aiming to attract.

"If it [the party] doesn't change anything, if it is still saying the same things and taking the same policy positions, then many black people will say, 'This is a white party led by a black person.'"

The Democratic Alliance took 22 percent of the vote in last year's national election, its best performance ever.

jlw/cmk (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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