South Africa's ruling African National Congress has officially launched its campaign for national elections due in several months. Party leader Jacob Zuma outlined the party platform to thousands of supporters while opposition party leaders held campaign meetings in other parts of the country.
Tens of thousands of party stalwarts Saturday packed a sports stadium in the southeastern city of East London to hear ANC President Jacob Zuma announce the party's election manifesto and officially launch its election campaign.
Zuma said since the end of apartheid the ANC-led government has provided millions of people with housing, access to clean water, sanitation and social security. But he added much remains to be done.
"We will implement a strategy of continuity and change," said Zuma. "We will retain those strategies and practices that have been successful but will change and improve those that have not delivered optimal results."
He listed five priority areas for the next five years. These include providing jobs to the millions of unemployed, more accessible health and education facilities to the poor, greater efforts to combat crime and corruption and a new emphasis on rural development, food security and land reform.
He also pledged to work for solutions to the crises in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Western Sahara and Somalia.
Zuma concluded saying that the ANC has the experience needed to improve the lives of the people. "It is my honor and privilege to officially launch the 2009 ANC Election Manifesto. Amandla," he said.
He then led supporters in singing party songs. South African politicians for months have been holding meetings and canvassing for votes, but Saturday's speech - on the 97th anniversary of the founding of the ANC- signaled the official start of the campaign season.
The ANC has dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid in 1994 but is facing an unprecedented challenge from the Congress of the People. It was formed by former senior party leaders who resigned after the dismissal last September of former President Thabo Mbeki.
COPE, which is to announce its election platform in a few weeks, held a major rally Saturday in the Durban area. Another major opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, also held a meeting in Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
More than 140 parties and nearly two million new voters have been registered for the upcoming elections. President Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to dissolve parliament next month paving the way for the vote within three months.