The ANC must develop policies to improve the lives of the country's people, President Jacob Zuma said in Johannesburg on Friday.
"We must emerge with policies that will take South Africa forward," he said. The ANC will holding its policy conference at the end of the month.
He was delivering a memorial lecture on former ANC president Alfred Xuma. He said Xuma laid a foundation for the ANC's policies.
"His directive was provision for all state pensions, and disability grants. He wanted mid-day meals for children at school."
Xuma was the sixth president-general of the ANC from 1940 to 1949. He was born on March 8, 1893, in Manzana in the Eastern Cape. He died in 1962.
Zuma said education was the key component to taking the country forward.
"We talk about education in the Freedom Charter. The door was closed then. Now the doors are open. We want every young person in school, we want them in university or FET (further education and training) colleges."
He said the youth needed to play a meaningful role in the country's economy.
"We must give the opportunity to empower the youth to take the country forward."
Education loans had increased to R5.5-billion in the current financial year, from R3.3-billion in 2010, and R15-billion had been set aside for students to enrol at FET colleges.
He said the ANC government had provided R200-million for loans to 25 000 students who had completed their studies.
Zuma said in the mid-1930s ANC membership declined severely.
The organisation's mass support, which had been built in the early 1920s, was almost completely lost. As a result the organisation was incapable of mounting a national campaign, even in the face of the racist Hertzog Bills which introduced oppressive labour conditions."
He said after Xuma's election in 1940, he began building an effective ANC.
"The conference that elected him had mandated Xuma to revive the 1919 ANC constitution."
As results of amendments made, the ANC membership was opened to anyone, not only those who "belonged to the aboriginal races of Africa" as per the original constitution.
"The secretary and treasurer were to be elected by conference as opposed to being nominated by the president. The upper house of chiefs was scrapped."
He describe Xuma a dedicated and disciplined doctor, who had refused payment while working at the Alexandra clinic until its financial situation improved.
Under his leadership, the ANC Women's League and ANC Youth League were formed.
"President Xuma left a shining legacy. The stage was set for the radicalisation of the ANC."
He said under Xuma the ANC came to understand that true freedom had to be enjoyed by all, not only a few property owners and elites.
"The ANC also developed an understanding of its role in the liberation struggle, as a leader of society, and not only of ANC members."
During the Xuma's presidency, the organisation benefited from the membership of young intellectuals, who in turn benefited from the guidance of elders in the movement.
"Nevertheless, the period showed the tensions that would exist between the mother body and its youth structure. And most importantly, let us all draw lessons from his promotion of unity."