Helen Zille has fired the first warning shot at the ANC: her party will contest the 2014 national elections to win key provinces, especially Gauteng.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) is holding its fifth federal congress in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, where it is eagerly waiting to announce its new leadership on Sunday.
The party's rebel MP and shadow minister of home affairs Masizole Mnqasela is expected to face-off with incumbent Wilmot James for the position of federal chairperson.
DA's national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane, on the other hand, will contest for the position of federal deputy chairperson along with seven others, including the vociferous spokesperson on police Dianne Kohler-Barnard, the DA's Gauteng MP Anchen Dreyer and the party's deputy chief whip in Parliament Sandy Kalyan.
Zille's position is uncontested.
"To bring real and lasting change, we must win a national election ... Because we can only implement our policies when we are the government. We cannot do so in opposition," Zille told 1 650 congress delegates, dressed in blue T-shirts and emblems.
"Our goal is to become the government of South Africa so that everyone has freedom they can use to build a better life. We know if we keep on, we will get there ... And sooner than many people think ... It will not be easy. We respect the power of past loyalties. We understand how much we owe to those who struggled for our freedom. We know how hard it will be to live up to their legacy. That is why we say: 'honour your past, but own your future'."
The DA's congress comes a month before the ANC's national conference in Mangaung in the Free State, where the party will vote on whether President Jacob Zuma should get another term as ANC president.
The congress delegates told the Mail & Guardian that the party was hoping to emerge with a diverse leadership that would see the DA diminishing the ANC's hegemony in the near future by breaking mainly into the African vote.
This new leadership, they believe, would capitalise on the poor performance of the ANC-led government in the past 18 years and its failure to deliver services to the majority of South Africans.
Maimane earlier told the M&G in an interview that the DA congress would set the party on the path of realignment politics.
Insiders and outsiders
The DA is leading an alliance of opposition parties that are calling for Zuma's removal.
Two weeks ago, the party's parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, tabled a motion of no confidence in Zuma on behalf of her party and several others.
The ANC and Parliament rejected the motion, with the ANC labelling it "frivolous" and "a publicity stunt", and Parliament saying it could not put it on the programme because of a failure to reach a consensus in Parliament's programming committee.
Mazibuko then approached the Western Cape High Court to ask it to compel Parliament to hold the debate on the motion they had tabled.
The DA has also won a number of court cases against Zuma over the past few months, including challenging the appointment of Menzi Simelane as the director of public prosecutions and filing for access to the record of decision, or documentary evidence, used to drop charges against Zuma in April in 2009.
Zille's assertive and highly optimistic speech, peppered with the party's successes in uplifting the poor, pointed out that South Africa was at the crossroads and needed new blood in government to bring about tangible changes and hope.
"We are holding our federal congress at a significant moment in South Africa's history. Many people believe our country is moving in the wrong direction. We have been through a traumatic few months. Some people are losing hope for the future. Apartheid may be over, but South Africa is still a country of insiders and outsiders. We see it on our mines, our farms and in our towns," Zille said.
"We have come together, despite our divided past, because we share the same values. We share a commitment to the Constitution. We understand that the best way to beat poverty and overcome the legacy of apartheid is through inclusive economic growth that creates jobs."
Earlier, Gauteng's DA leader John Moodey told congress delegates that the party would target Gauteng – the country's economic powerhouse, during the 2014 general elections.
"I can confidently state that we are well on our way to reaching our goal of governing Gauteng in 2014. We are not naive, we recognise the challenges we face in obtaining an additional one million votes from our target market. We are not ignorant of the challenge we face in changing the wrong perception that prevails regarding the DA as a white party," said Moodey.