South African President Kgalema Motlanthe on Friday defended the ruling ANC's record in a state of the nation address as the party heads into general elections after a period of political upheaval.
Motlanthe had the awkward task of delivering the annual state of the nation address after only five months in office, as his predecessor Thabo Mbeki was forced to resign by the African National Congress.
Flagging the government's achievements after 15 years of democracy, Motlanthe also highlighted challenges in the economy, crime, corruption and poverty while assuring that "our nation is in a good state."
He said the ANC-dominated government had overseen South Africa's longest-ever period of economic growth, reducing unemployment from 31 percent in 2003 to 23 percent in 2007. But he said the global financial crisis was hitting home.
Motlanthe said government would boost spending to deflect the blow of the global economic crisis that has shattered growth prospects and job creation.
"Government will continue with its public investment projects, the value of which have increased to 690 billion rand (69 billion US dollars) for the next three years," he said.
Addressing a joint sitting of parliament, Motlanthe said government would have to find creative ways to raise funds due to tightening credit around the globe.
Intensifying employment programmes in the public sector, addressing investment challenges by improving savings, and extending social support were all areas where government would step in.
"The progress made since 1994 has been impressive. But neither can there be any doubt that the challenges remain immense."
Motlanthe called for restraint during the campaigning for upcoming elections, as the ANC faces a challenge from the
splinter party the Congress of the People (COPE), with tensions already sparking some violence.
Nine ANC members were injured, including three from gunshots, in clashes between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as both held election rallies in the traditional stronghold of the Zulu IFP.
"The robustness of our political engagement during this season of electoral contest, which we all agree should be dignified and peaceful, is the surest guarantee of the continued survival and deepening of our democracy," Motlanthe said.
"Many aspects of our constitutional order have been tested in the recent past, and every one of them has passed the test to reveal a democracy that is exceptionally resilient," Motlanthe added.
Motlanthe said he will announce a date for South Africa's fourth national elections since the end of apartheid in 1994 in the next few days.
ANC leader Jacob Zuma is the frontrunner for president, but deep divisions have emerged after the party sacked Mbeki in September.
The dissent led to the creation of the breakaway party COPE, which is challenging the ANC in the election.
COPE has also complained of ANC members blocking their supporters from entering rallies, and the fierce competition has led to heated language, including messages from the ANC youth league to "kill for Zuma."
Speaking to local television after the event Zuma praised the speech for identifying problems which he promised to address if he was elected president.
"Generally, we have good policies but we have problems with implementation, delivery."
Main opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille slammed the measured address as an "ANC election speech" which failed to give details on how to address these challenges going forward.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu told AFP: "The emphasis on poverty and crime, I think that was very good. I think we need to be lifted, because we have struggled a bit."