May 7 will see South Africa's most closely fought election since the fall of apartheid, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille said on Friday after President Jacob Zuma announced the poll date.
"We stand ready to fight the closest election in the history of democratic South Africa," Zille said, adding that employment would be the central issue of the campaign.
"This will be the jobs election. On May 7, voters will have the opportunity to decide which party has the policies and the political will to cut corruption and create jobs."
She said the DA's election manifesto, which was to be launched in Polokwane in a fortnight, would set out the party's vision of creating six million jobs by growing the economy at 8% over the next decade.
'A battle of ideas'
"We will make this election a battle of ideas; even as our opponents cling to the outdated politics of racial mobilisation.
"We can make history in this election. We can put the politics of the past behind us and move boldly towards the South Africa we dreamed of in 1994," Zille said.
Earlier, the ANC welcomed Zuma's announcement of the date.
"As the ANC, we are particularly proud that the democracy that we fought so hard for, side by side with our people, continues to be strengthened and exercised through the holding of regular elections," ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said.
Mthembu called on people who had not yet registered to vote in the general elections to register this weekend.
"The ANC implores particularly young people to come out in their numbers to define the type of future they want to see," he said.
The Independent Electoral Commission said it had been preparing for the 2014 election for two years.
"Plans are well advanced to ensure a credible, free and fair election in this historic 20th year of democracy," spokesperson Kate Bapela said.
"The commission continues to urge all South Africans and especially the new generation of young voters [to] make use of this weekend to register and check their registration details so that they can participate in this election."
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said it was important for every citizen to consider the importance of the election.
"It is significant that the election is to be held shortly after Freedom Day on 27 April and Workers' Day on 1 May," he said.
"The reason is probably that the ANC would want to … use these emotionally charged days to celebrate huge 20-year commemorations.
"The hope would then be that the emotions which are thus aroused about 1994 will spill over to the advantage of the ANC's election campaign," said Mulder.
He said that every vote counted and "that is why voters should vote for the party whose values are the closest to his or her own. If the public, in large numbers, vote against the ANC, changes in the country can be made."
The South African Communist Party (SACP) welcomed the announcement.
"The South African Communist Party urges everyone who is eligible to vote, especially the youth and first-time voters, to go out to register during this last voter registration weekend," said spokesperson Alex Mashilo. – Sapa