Defectors from South Africa's ruling African National Congress are holding a conference that is to formally announce Tuesday the creation of a new political party. They plan to contest national elections due early next year.

Some 4,000 former members of the African National Congress sang and danced in the central city of Bloemfontein as they laid the foundation for a new political party called the Congress of the People, or COPE.

One of the organizers of the conference, former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, said organizers must strengthen democracy and work against forces that seek to remain forever in power.

"No party owns voters," Lekota said. "Therefore, we can neither prevent other parties from persuading our members or supporters to vote for them, nor be prevented from canvassing our ideas among voters of any other political party."

He accused some ANC members of intimidating COPE supporters and trying to prevent them from holding rallies.

ANC has dominated South African politics for 14 years

The ANC, Africa's oldest liberation movement, led the struggle against apartheid and has dominated South African politics since the advent of democracy 14 years ago.

What led to formation of COPE?

Most COPE organizers are former ANC members who became unhappy after the party leadership obliged then-President Thabo Mbeki to resign with six months remaining in his term.

The resignation brought to a head a growing rift with supporters of former vice president, Jacob Zuma, who was elected ANC president one year ago at a confrontational party congress.

As head of the ANC, Zuma is the frontrunner to become South Africa's next president in elections early next year. But he faces corruption charges which his supporters say are politically motivated.

Zuma was elected with the support of trade unions, the Communist Party and the left wing of the ANC which believe that the Mbeki government did not do enough to help the poor.

Many concerned about country's lack of progress

Public opinion polls show that many South Africans are also concerned about the lack of progress in the fight against corruption, crime and the AIDS epidemic.

COPE officials say more than 400,000 people have already joined their party and they will mount a major challenge to the ANC in the upcoming elections.

But ANC leaders have also been hard at work. The General-Secretary of the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, told a rally in Johannesburg, Sunday, that the new party would be eliminated by next year.

"We will bury them because they are trying to derail our freedom, our national democratic revolution. They are selling us out," Vavi said.

Zuma also addressed thousands of supporters in Eastern Cape, considered a COPE stronghold, and said he was confident of an ANC victory next year.