President Jacob Zuma sought the moral high ground at the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung on Sunday, lecturing on violence, corruption, and bribery.
Dressed in a leather jacket with African National Congress colours, Zuma broke into song as he took to the podium to open the event.
He swept a delighted audience away with an old struggle song.
"The journey is long... Mandela told his followers that we'll meet on freedom day," Zuma sang at the 53rd elective conference in Mangaung in the Free State, where the ANC was founded a century ago.
His speech started off with best wishes to former president Nelson Mandela, who is in hospital, before he went on to boast that ANC membership was up from 600 000 in 2007 to 1.22 million at present.
Zuma supporters cheered and ululated upon his arrival.
The Free State and Limpopo provinces watched quietly, with a Limpopo delegation making noise and rolling their hands when he started speaking.
His 90-minute speech, which started about three hours late, condemned violence, bribery, and corruption within the party, ironically charges which he himself, or his allies, had been accused of.
At some stage he removed his leather jacket in the sweltering heat of the marquee, where an air-conditioning failure left many wiping away the sweat, and some dozing off.
Zuma briefly shared a few words on stage with his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, who had been nominated to challenge his leadership of the former liberation movement-turned ruling party.
Zuma spoke of divisions within the ANC at the previous conference in Polokwane, in 2007, when Zuma defeated former president Thabo Mbeki.
"The road to Polokwane was full of division and turbulence," he said during his political report.
"It was necessary that we start healing the organisation and working for unity after the conference.
"Some successes were made while some provinces still have pockets of factionalism and disunity."
Zuma spoke out against party political violence, in a clear reference to the killing of ANC North West official, David Mosiane Chika, 33. He was shot dead outside his house in Alabama, Klerksdorp, on Friday morning.
"What could be so much at stake that they would go so far to get their own way?"
A disgruntled group of North West ANC members failed this week in a court bid to alter the province's representation at Mangaung.
As Zuma was speaking, another disgruntled group from the Free State province addressed a media conference, saying no immediate court challenge would be launched about the participation of some delegates.
Zuma also condemned the "alien tendencies" of people who had tried to buy the ANC's support. They were turning ANC members into "commodities".
Public spats and disrespect towards members should not be allowed in the ANC, said Zuma.
The tripartite alliance, of the ANC, SA Communist Party and Congress of SA Trade Unions, needed to be handled with care. The alliance needed to refrain from public spats and "shouting from podiums", said Zuma, adding that the deadly labour unrest at Marikana in the North West this year exposed the country's flaws and inconsistencies. On August 16, 34 miners were shot dead during a protest near Lonmin mine in Rustenburg.
The labour strikes were illegal, violent and appeared designed to undermine collective bargaining in general and the National Union of Mineworkers in particular, Zuma said.
He said the campaign against corruption was continuing. The tender system was an area of vulnerability in the government.
"Even a granny in a rural area knows about a tender," he said in isiZulu.
"Conference may wish to deliberate on tendering, which is often open to abuse currently... Our country is one of the most transparent societies when it comes to the fight against corruption. It is talked about often in the public domain."
He bemoaned the textbook saga in Limpopo, warning it should never be repeated, while he praised the national development plan, saying it created certainty for the country.
Zuma urged teachers to be more diligent.
Zuma cautioned that the ANC would not be able to reach its 2014 target for land redistribution, set in Polokwane.
Zuma ended his speech as he started it, with the audience and the national executive committee, seated behind him, rising to join in song again.