DA leader Mmusi Maimane told several thousands of supporters dressed in the party colour blue at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg that the campaign "will be our most ambitious election campaign yet".

Johannesburg - South Africa's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) on Saturday launched its campaign ahead of highly contested elections due next year.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane told several thousands of supporters dressed in the party colour blue at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, Johannesburg that the campaign "will be our most ambitious election campaign yet".

He took a jibe at the ruling ANC which has governed the country since the dawn of democracy in 1994 saying it had let down South Africans while it allowed corruption to fester.

"Every promise this government has made has turned out to be an empty promise. After two decades of freedom, our people are still no closer to being free.

"The South Africa I see today looks nothing like the vision of the South Africa I saw in 1994. It doesn't look anywhere near and it looks like we are moving away from it." 

"What was a dream is fast becoming a nightmare," he told cheering supporters.

He promised to "fix this government, I want to fix South Africa".

"Only one party takes clean, corruption-free government seriously, and that is the DA," he said.

The DA, which has already reduced the ANC’s election majority during the 2016 local government vote, will seek to erode its support further at the general election due between May and August of next year.

Support for the ruling party dipped during the rule of scandal-marred ex-president Jacob Zuma which saw it lose control of the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria in municipal polls two years ago.

Zuma's successor Cyril Ramaphosa has vowed to fight corruption and is on a drive to tackle soaring unemployment, which currently stands at about 28 percent.

Under its first black leader Maimane, the DA party climbed to 24 percent in the 2016 local vote.

For long it has been considered a middle class white party, but its black membership has grown considerably since Maimane took over in 2015.

The party has faced several crises in recent months including a bruising public spat between the leadership and the mayor of Cape Town Patricia De Lille, controversial tweets by former leader Helen Zille and the breakdown of a coalition partnership.

READ MAIMANE'S FULL SPEECH BELOW:

My fellow South Africans,

On Monday we will celebrate our country’s beautiful and diverse heritage.

It’s a day to pause and reflect on the rich tapestry of culture and history that has shaped us into the nation we are.

Our past was brutal and divided precisely because people tried to use these differences to drive wedges between us.

They tried to tell us that our skin colours, our languages, our cultures and our religions were things that should divide us. But they couldn’t be more wrong.

Our diversity is precisely what makes us strong. Our future lies together. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Today I want to ask you to cast your mind back to a very specific moment in time. I want you to think back to April of 1994.

I want you to try and remember exactly how you felt then.

I remember 1994 very well. Many of you will remember it too. Some will be too young, but you will have heard the stories.

I was only a boy then, barely in my teens. But I will never, ever forget what I felt as we closed the chapter on the old South Africa and opened a new one.

I knew I was witnessing history unfolding, and I was thrilled to be part of it.

I remember what it meant to the people where I grew up – my community in Dobsonville, Soweto. The excitement was tangible.

I remember our hope, our belief that we could make it work. That we would make it work, and that we would heal our broken past.

Fellow South Africans, what happened here during the years of Apartheid and colonial rule left deep, deep wounds in our society.

These wounds haven’t healed yet, and they won’t heal for many years to come.

The injustice then remains an injustice now. The inequality then remains an inequality now.

People are still suffering today. And they will continue to suffer until we correct the structural defects in our economy.

They will continue to suffer until we break down the spatial segregation of Apartheid and bring people closer to work opportunities.

They will continue to suffer until we find a way to bridge the divide between business and labour.

They will continue to suffer until we find real solutions to dealing with our country’s historic exploitation of labour. Solutions like Mayor Mashaba’s decision to bring in thousands of contract security workers in Johannesburg, so that they can earn a decent salary and have a better hope for tomorrow.

They will continue to suffer until, through better education and training, our young people become more employable.

Yes, our country is still scarred from our past, but I remember a time when we all believed we could make this right.

When we took our first steps as a democracy back in 1994, we had a visionary leader who was able to paint a picture of what we could be if we set our hearts and minds to it.

A leader who made us believe that, whatever our country’s history and whatever our hurt, we would overcome it. Together.

A leader who reminded us we had a nation to build. A brand new nation with new ideas, new opportunities and new challenges.

We had a new government, a new Constitution and, importantly, we had millions of new neighbours.

Yes, we may have lived alongside each other for decades, but for the most part we lived past each other. We were strangers to each other, even enemies.

But that was all about to change, because for the first time ever, we were one nation. One people, bound by one common goal. And I loved how that felt.

When I saw the pictures on the TV of the helicopters flying over the Union Buildings, carrying those massive flags, my heart swelled with pride and belonging.

I had a flag, and it was beautiful.

My flag had these big bands that swept together in a V and continued as one united band. Just as we had come together from a fractured past, but were now headed towards one united destiny.

We were truly a country alive with possibilities. And these possibilities were rooted in our people. The talent, the creativity and the hunger to make a mark in the world; to leave a legacy.

Yes, there were those who said it wouldn’t work. There were those who said the wounds were too deep and the divide too wide.

There were those who predicted resistance, revenge, even civil war.

But those weren’t the people we listened to. They were a small minority.

The rest of us – the vast majority of South Africans – stood united under a new flag, bound and protected by a new Constitution, ready to face our future.

We could see a path laid out before us, stretching off into this bright new future.

Do you remember this? If you were there in 1994, can you recall how it felt?

Because I do. I remember feeling like we were united, and that we had a purpose.

But I also know that somewhere along the way we left this path.

Yes, for a while we made progress. Communities long overlooked and neglected were given services for the first time.

Electricity, water, sewage, roads, lights – the things so many of us take for granted, but which can make all the difference in the world.

Houses and schools were built. Townships started attracting new businesses, shops and big new malls.

You could see the progress all around you. In those early years it seemed like we would become the nation we dreamed of.

But it didn’t last. First our progress slowed down, and then it came to a complete stop.

Communities found themselves once again forgotten by the government, unless there was an election coming up.

Service delivery slowed down, housing projects stalled. But above all, the millions of jobs that were promised never materialised.

Every year, more and more people joined the long queues of the unemployed. Finishing school with a matric pass no longer meant anything.

The number of young people I have spoken to who spend their days at home – “chasing the sun” around the house because there’s nothing else to do – is just heart-breaking.

Every promise this government made turned out to be empty. After two decades of freedom, our people were still no closer to being free.

The South Africa I see today looks nothing like the vision of the South Africa I saw in 1994. It looks nothing like the dream we all shared. Not even close.

And I know I am not the only one to see this. Every single day in our cities and our towns across all our provinces, people voice their anger at being sold empty promises.

Crime is rising everywhere, and particularly the violent crimes like murder, rape and robbery.

People feel scared and alone. They feel like their government has abandoned them – left them at the mercy of gangs and drug dealers. They are angry about this.

Jobs are scarce, and the few jobs that are available are given to those with connections, those who pay bribes, even those who are forced to sleep with someone out of desperation. People are angry about this.

Corruption has become the new normal in government. It is an oppressive evil for which no one is ever punished. Even when all the facts come out, they still keep their jobs.

In fact, they not only keep their jobs, they get promotions. Ace Magashule is now the ANC Secretary-General. David Mabuza is now the Deputy President. People are angry about this.

All the progress that was made in bringing services to communities is slowly being reversed. These days, taps run dry and sewage flows down the streets. Municipalities can’t keep the lights on or the streets clean. And people are angry about this.

All of this anger has started boiling over in towns and cities across South Africa. Our country is on a knife’s edge all the time.

Every protest action throughout this country is a reminder of just how far we missed the target we set for ourselves in 1994.

But here’s the thing: We didn’t just happen to lose our way by accident. This wasn’t simply our bad luck.

We lost our way the moment this government realised it could become rich off the money of the people.

When it became clear just how easy it was to take the money meant for the people and put it in the pockets of politicians and their friends, that’s when we left the path.

And since then we have been drifting further and further away from the bright future we once imagined.

Instead of one nation pursuing one common goal, we were two separate South Africas living in one country.

One of these South Africas was the people with jobs; those with opportunities and connections. The economic insiders.

The other South Africa was made up of all those stuck on the outside – people without access to jobs and without the right connections.

It is this second group that is becoming bigger and bigger every year. This growing unemployment, poverty and hopelessness is the single biggest threat we face as a nation.

If we don’t find a way to bridge the gap between these two South Africas and become one nation again, then our dream of a safe and prosperous country will fade away completely.

Fellow South Africans,

The only way we will achieve this is if we’re completely honest about how we got here. And I’ll tell you right now how this happened.

It is complacency that got us here. This government realised it didn’t have to work for the people to still be voted into office.

It is indifference that got us here. We have a government that has long forgotten the sacrifices made for our freedom. A government that simply no longer cares.

And it is greed that got us here. The more they stole from the people, the more they wanted.

This is why we lost our way.

If we now want to fix our country, then we have to ask ourselves: Which South Africa do we want to live in?

Do we want to continue down the road we’re on, where the gap between the insiders and the outsiders just grows and grows until there is no way to close it up?

Or do we want to return to the dream of one united South Africa, working together to build a future in which everyone is included? A South Africa that has dealt with the inequalities of the past, and where everyone has access to opportunities.

Because if it is the latter – and I know, in my heart, that it is – then there is only one party fighting for this cause, and that party is the Democratic Alliance.

If that’s what we choose for our country, we cannot waste another moment. Our work begins right now.

Today marks the start of the DA’s Election 2019 campaign. And from now until we go to the polls, my colleagues and I will spend every single day telling South Africans what they can expect from a DA government.

It’s a simple message: The DA will bring change that builds One South Africa for All.

But captured within this simple message is everything our country needs to reach its enormous potential.

In particular we will focus on the five key issues of corruption, crime, jobs, immigration and service delivery – what we call our “agenda for change”.

These are the issues that really matter to South Africans. And they are issues which only the DA has a clear and credible plan to deal with.

Our message speaks to fighting corruption and state capture, and ridding our country of this scourge for good.

We know now that our country did not enter a new dawn after Jacob Zuma left. It is clear that nothing has changed.

The same corrupt people that sold our country to the Guptas under Zuma still occupy the top positions in this new government. No one was ever charged. No one was ever prosecuted.

Only one party takes clean, corruption-free government seriously, and that’s the DA. This much is obvious from our track record in government.

So when we say we will jail those found guilty of corruption for 15 years, you know we’ll do it.

Our message speaks to fixing our Police Force so that it can actually protect and serve the people.

I worry about the gunshots my children hear on the TV, but these gunshots happen every day in communities like Nyanga and Mitchells Plain.

Right now, our Police Force can’t keep our communities safe. They’re not properly trained to do so, and they are riddled with corruption.

The DA will transform SAPS into a lean, clean crime-fighting machine.

We will only hire people with a passion for policing, and we will retrain existing officers so they can serve and protect with pride.

We will also bring back the gang and drug units that were disbanded by the ANC government so that we can keep our communities, and particularly our young people, safe.

Our message speaks to the crucial issue of employment, and how we can ensure that all South Africans have fair access to jobs.

And when I say jobs, I mean real long-term, sustainable jobs.

Only the DA has a plan to harness the power of the private sector and the power of the entrepreneur to create these jobs.

We have proven this beyond all doubt in the province and Metros where we govern. In the last year, three-quarters of all new jobs were created in the DA-run Western Cape.

We must break down our State Owned Enterprises, we must make sure our cities can build sustainable infrastructure, and we must allow small businesses to thrive. This is our agenda for change.

But our goal is not only to help create new jobs. It is also about making sure that young people have the skills and experience to make the most of these opportunities.

We have some big plans to achieve this, like a year of voluntary national service for school leavers, and a network of job centres throughout the country.

But jobs mean nothing if all our people can’t access them. And so the DA will make fair access to jobs a key focus.

We will charge and prosecute each and everyone who tries to solicit cash for jobs, or sex for jobs.

Our message speaks to the urgent need to secure our country’s borders, welcoming those who want to come here legally, but shutting out those who try to do so illegally.

We’ll do so by strengthening our border posts and ridding Home Affairs of corruption, but also by supporting and caring for legitimate refugees and asylum seekers.

No country in the world can afford uncontrolled immigration, and particularly not a country where resources are as scarce as ours.

We need a government that is prepared to lead on this – a government that won’t allow this dangerous powder keg to be left unchecked.

Under the DA, we will immediately restore the law and order that this government has been unable to maintain.

Our message speaks to a better quality of life for our people by speeding up the delivery of basic services to all communities.

Living without these basic services is robbing people of their dignity.

All over South Africa there are still communities without access to water. There are still communities with no electricity. There are still communities that use bucket toilets.

All the promises made by government to the people living under these conditions have turned out to be empty.

In under two years, the DA-led coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay managed to rid the metro of 60% of its bucket toilets – something its previous government couldn’t do in two decades.

The DA has a plan to speed up the delivery of basic services. By cleaning up local and provincial governments we will ensure that the people’s money is spent on the people. This includes managing the allocation of government housing in a fair and transparent manner.

And finally, our message is about justice. And it is justice that lies at the heart of the land question. We will ensure that more black South Africans are able to own land through secure private property rights.

Fellow South Africans,

These issues will form the core of the message that we will be taking to every corner of the country over the coming months.

It will be our most ambitious election campaign yet. And to do so, we will rely on the efforts of the biggest team we have ever assembled. We call it Team One SA.

This team is not only DA public reps, staff members and campaign spokespersons. It’s not only signed-up DA members either.

Team One SA includes every single South African who wants to join us in building the country of our dreams, no matter how big or small their contribution.

The DA today runs a massive election operation, and in recent years we have spread to every corner of every province.

It is out in these communities where the election will be won or lost, and our vast network of activists and volunteers will form the heart and soul of Team One SA.

Anyone can be part of this movement. Whether in your community or online, your contribution will make a difference.

So I urge you to go to TeamOneSouthAfrica.co.za today and sign up. When we unite, we have the power to change anything we want to.

We have also produced a TV ad that talks about this strength in unity – about how unimportant our superficial differences are – and I would like to show it to you now.

Fellow South Africans,

I know some people have become despondent by the state of our nation in recent years.

Our daily headlines certainly make for painful reading. But I need you to keep your focus far ahead, on the ultimate goal.

I need you to remember – and to remind yourself every day – how you felt back when we all believed that anything was possible for our country.

I want you to remind yourself how it felt to be part of a unified movement towards a goal we all truly believed in.

How it felt the first time we all sang our anthem, or the first time we raised our flag.

And then I want you to ask yourself: Which country would you rather live in – the divided one we have now with its poverty, unemployment and growing anger, or a united one where we all build a shared future together?

If it’s the latter, then you know what to do in next year’s election. Because only one party can bring change that builds one South Africa for all. And that party is the DA.

So let us unite around this goal. Let us all roll up our sleeves and build the South Africa we dream of.

One nation pursuing one shared future.

Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika.

Let us live and strive for freedom in South Africa our beautiful land.

Amandla!