JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Respected anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele resigned as chairwoman of Gold Fields on Wednesday, intensifying speculation she is about to launch a political party to challenge the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Gold Fields said Ramphele had decided to retire "to further her socio-economic and political work". Former South African Airways chairwoman Cheryl Carolus will succeed Ramphele as chair, the company said.
Ramphele, 65, commands considerable respect among South Africa's black majority as a partner of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who died in 1977 as a result of beatings received in an apartheid prison.
She was also placed under house arrest for seven years by South Africa's white-minority government because of her political activities.
"She is an amazingly powerful woman," said political analyst Nic Borain, adding that Ramphele would not be taking a leap into direct politics against the might of Nelson Mandela's 100-year-old liberation movement without having a solid plan in place.
"She would have done her homework," he said.
Another political analyst, Allister Sparks, said a Ramphele-led party would be likely to take votes from the ANC, which has ruled virtually unchallenged since the end of apartheid in 1994, rather than the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), still seen as the party of white privilege.
"She is not just a fine academic; she is a dynamic woman of action," he wrote in an editorial in Wednesday's Business Day newspaper.
A consultancy working for Ramphele said she would be making a statement about her political plans on Johannesburg's Constitution Hill on Monday.
(Reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas; Editing by Ed Cropley)