Soweto (South Africa) (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma on Sunday denounced corruption within the ruling ANC party and admitted that mistakes had cost the party at the ballot box after a year of damaging scandals.
Zuma is set to step down as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in December, before he completes the maximum two terms in office as national president in 2019.
He and other senior ANC figures have been embroiled in a series of graft allegations, as South Africa has struggled with a slowing economy, high unemployment and regular violent protests.
In August, the ANC -- which came to power in 1994 under Nelson Mandela after the end of apartheid -- recorded its worst-ever election results at local polls.
"The ANC has heard the message that the people delivered in August. We accept that we have made mistakes," Zuma, 74, said in a speech marking the ANC's 105th anniversary.
"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."
Among Zuma's possible successors are his ex-wife, African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.
On Saturday, the ANC's influential women's league pledged its support for Dlamini-Zuma.
"The ANC will elect a new national leadership towards the end of the year," Zuma said.
"Too often, comrades fight for leadership positions as they see leadership as the route to material and personal gain."
As attacks on his presidency grew last year, Zuma survived an attempt by ANC rivals to oust him in November, shrugging off criticism of his conduct by the official anti-graft watchdog and the Constitutional Court.
The watchdog probe uncovered evidence of possible criminal activity in his relationship with the Guptas, a business family accused of wielding undue political influence.
Zuma, who took power in 2009, retains strong loyalty among many rank-and-file ANC party members, as well as its lawmakers.
He struck a humble note at the ANC celebrations in a sports stadium in Soweto, a hotbed of the struggle that ended white-majority rule more than 20 years ago.
"The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs," he said.
"The ANC must unite so that we are able to unite the people against our common enemies -- unemployment, poverty and inequality."
Zuma gave a shortened version of his published speech as heavy rain lashed the venue.