South Africa's new Congress of the People party has been boosted by the defection of two prominent members of the ruling African National Congress.

COPE says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the country's former deputy president, and business tycoon Saki Macozoma have joined the party as campaigning heats up ahead of the April election.

COPE is seen as the first viable black opposition party in South Africa, where the ANC has held an overwhelming majority since Nelson Mandela was voted the country's first black president 15 years ago.

Meanwhile, as COPE welcomed its two new members, the ANC announced the defection of 300 COPE members in Klerksdorp, North West, into the ANC.

COPE recently announced Mvume Dandala, a former Methodist bishop, will be its presidential candidate for the upcoming election.  He resigned from his church position after his selection.

Dandala is new to politics and some COPE party members say he represents a new type of moral leader who comes without the baggage of former South African President Thabo Mbeki. 

Mr. Mbeki resigned under pressure from ANC officials who accused him of political tampering in corruption cases against ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

Zuma is the frontrunner in the April 22 election, although he still faces corruption charges. 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.