SOWETO, South Africa (AP) — South Africa's scandal-ridden president said Sunday the ruling party has made "mistakes" and is determined to root out the corruption that is destroying the country's democracy, as a shaken African National Congress begins looking for a new leader before the next election in 2019.
President Jacob Zuma tried to rally the ANC at its 105th anniversary celebration after a year in which the party saw its worst election showing since taking power a generation ago at the end of white minority rule.
Many blame the 74-year-old Zuma, who in November escaped a move by senior party members to oust him as president. Zuma faces the reinstatement of corruption charges linked to an arms deal and has been accused of allowing a wealthy family to influence state decisions, among other scandals.
"When leaders and members of the ANC are corrupt and steal they are betraying the values of the ANC, the people and our country. We will not allow this," Zuma said to a stadium of thousands of party faithful.
South Africa's move last year to leave the International Criminal Court, after former President Nelson Mandela was a passionate advocate for the court's creation, led critics to again say the ANC had drifted from its earlier ideals. Meanwhile, anger grows over high unemployment, a weak education system and poor delivery of basic services in a country that jostles with Nigeria to be Africa's leading economy.
"Our people have told us that we come across as too busy fighting one another and do not pay sufficient attention to their needs," Zuma said. "We must give our people hope. We must unite against our common enemies, which are unemployment, poverty and inequality."
The country's next presidential elections are in 2019. An ANC conference in December will determine who will succeed Zuma as party leader — and likely as president, as the party has never lost the general election since it took power in 1994.
But the party is under growing pressure from the opposition. In August's municipal elections, the rival Democratic Alliance reached beyond its political stronghold in the Cape region to win control of the capital region and Johannesburg for the first time.
Neither of the two people seen as the likely candidates to succeed Zuma as ANC leader, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has declared their intention to run.
The ANC's Women's League has announced its support for Dlamini-Zuma, who is also President Jacob Zuma's ex-wife. In his speech Sunday, Zuma made a point of saying that the focus this year is on empowering women.
Associated Press videographer Renee Graham contributed.