If the ANC fails to listen to the people of South Africa, it does not deserve to be in a position of power, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said on Monday.
"We [as the ANC] ought to strive for relevance today to ordinary South Africans," he said in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) interview.
"If ordinary South Africans don't see in the ANC a natural political home, an instrument which addresses their own concerns, they will shift to other parties."
Motlanthe said the African National Congress was never meant to "go back" to how it was in the past.
"They [critics] have the right to judge the ANC for what it is and not what it was," he said.
"If we fail to stay on our toes because of the cries of our people, then we don't deserve to hold these positions of responsibility."
Molanthe said South Africa had a population of activists who were not willing to accept "second best".
"We [the ANC] are forever concerned about our failures. The president [Jacob Zuma] himself has said many times that the wheels of government turn too slowly," he said.
"I do take responsibility for our failures and believe that whatever we do right should not be a source of celebration."
Motlanthe gave no indication during the interview about whether he had accepted his nomination for president of the ANC
"I don't even know that I have been nominated, except for what I read in the newspapers," he said.
"As soon as the electoral commission approaches me with that question, I will give an answer."
He said he was not "hesitant" to define his stance further, but rather carried a responsibility to adhere to the ANC's guidelines.
Motlanthe said he was not aware of calls by expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema to support him for president at the party's national conference in Mangaung.
"You know, people who take public platforms and pronounce, half the time they don't actually mean what they say and they never actually act on what they say," he said.
"Chances are, he [Malema] makes the pronouncement, goes home and sleeps."
He said the ANCYL was not a "kingmaker" because it had only 45 delegates at the conference.
Motlanthe said that, hypothetically, if he were elected ANC president, he would try to appoint the appropriate people.
"The country has lots of talented people. The trick lies in knowing how to create an environment in which all of them can come to the fore and make a contribution," he said.
"You have to appoint people that are far more talented than you are, if you are to succeed [as a leader]."
He said he would not get involved in business, because he had influence as deputy president.
"I do adhere to very strict standards [and] I don't dabble in business. I didn't do so even as I was serving as secretary-general of the ANC because that was a position of influence," he said.
"I believe no one should even do that. You do that once [and] there is no coming back. It is a slippery slope."