Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma on Friday acknowledged corruption and other "negative tendencies" in the ruling party, but sharply criticized opposition groups and former supporters who want the scandal-ridden president to resign.
Zuma spoke at the opening of a major policy conference at which the African National Congress sought to project unity. However, some veterans of the struggle against apartheid boycotted the event because of concerns about alleged state corruption and mismanagement on Zuma's watch.
Zuma said the ANC has done much to expand democracy and improve the lives of South Africans, though he admitted that corruption, factionalism and other problems were hurting the party.
"To restore and maintain its character, the ANC needs to cleanse itself of the negative tendencies which have crept in over the years," said Zuma, who declared in parliament last week that he was doing a good job despite high unemployment, an economic recession and other challenges.
Critics partly link the economic problems to the political uncertainty surrounding Zuma, who fired Pravin Gordhan from his post as finance minister, in a Cabinet reshuffle in March. Two agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor's, responded to the dismissal by lowering South Africa's credit rating to below investment grade, or junk status.
The ruling party is expected to replace Zuma as ANC president at a meeting in December. His deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president's former wife and former head of the African Union Commission, are considered leading candidates. While Zuma's term as president of the nation continues until the 2019 elections, there are calls from within the ruling party for him to quit and allow the ANC to shore up support before the vote.
Zuma on Friday criticized opposition parties that have taken their grievances to court, saying the recourse to legal action was undermining democracy.
"You argue in parliament and then the opposition is defeated - they say, 'OK, we are going to court,'" Zuma said. "Is that democracy?"
The president has said there have been seven motions of no confidence against him and that he expected more such efforts to oust him. The opposition went to court to try to get another motion conducted by secret ballot, which it believes could tip the balance against Zuma. The Constitutional Court ruled last week that it was up to the speaker of parliament, a ruling party member and Zuma ally, to decide how the vote should be implemented.
Zuma also disparaged some ANC members who oppose him, saying they "are not as strong as they project themselves."