COPE formed two months ago and indicated that it will tout a pro-business, non-racial agenda aimed at bolstering the country's democratic values, reported the Agence France-Presse.
"The history of South Africa will never be the same," Lekota told about 2,000 cheering delegates at a conference in Bloemfontein, quoted Reuters. "We have taken this step because we are the party of the future."
Lekota resigned as a minister after ANC ousted President Thabo Mbeki in September. The removal of Mbeki created a deep rift within the party and COPE was formed by ANC defectors aligned to the former president.
South Africa's Parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe as interim president in late September. Motlanthe will serve as interim leader until the general elections.
COPE has pledged to soften some of the government's more controversial policies, including affirmative action and land redistribution. "This will not be done on the basis of race," said Lekota, according to Reuters.
Lekota said the party would launch its election campaign in mid-January.
Some analysts have questioned whether COPE can mount a significant campaign against the ANC, headed by Jacob Zuma, who defeated Mbeki for the ANC leadership a year ago. ANC, which is supported by the left, won about two-thirds of the vote in previous elections.
"To gain more substantive traction, [COPE] would likely need several high-level defections from within the ANC itself," said Nicholas Kennedy, an emerging market analyst at 4CAST in London, Reuters reported.
But Choice Makhetha, an analyst from the University of Free State in Bloemfontein, said," I think the launch of COPE should be the biggest wake-up call for the ANC, people are hungry for a party that will honor its promises and lead by example," according to the AFP.
At the conference, COPE also named pro-business former premier of Gauteng province Mbhazima Shilowa and businesswoman Lynda Odendaal as Lekota's deputies.