BLOEMFONTEIN - The African National Congress's 100-year celebrations started on Friday with a golf day and a walk-about by President Jacob Zuma, but controversial ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema was likely to walk away as newsmaker of the day.

While Mr Zuma went on door-to-door visits in Botshabelo in the Free State's Mangaung municipality, after he had cancelled a trip there on Thursday, Mr Malema - who will not speak at the main event on Sunday - was holding a "mini rally" in neighbouring Thaba Nchu.

Here, his supporters again mocked Mr Zuma by singing a "shower head" song, referring to the ANC leader's 2006 rape trial when he said he took a shower to prevent getting Aids.

Mr Malema also said one of his biggest dreams was to see white domestic workers in South Africa, where white people controlled everything from the means of production and mines to banks and even labour.

"That must change. We want to find in the next 10 years, white domestic workers," he said to deafening applause from locals who packed the Moroka High School's hall.

Mr Malema was quick to add that the call for "economic freedom" should not be viewed as a way of excluding whites. "We never said they must be sent to sea. We just want to share the cake," he said.

In Botshabelo, Mr Zuma promised locals that running water would be installed in the township in March. He also put a councillor on the spot, demanding that she explain to an elderly man why he did not have running water.

The ANC government has had to deal with many service delivery protests in the past.

Mr Zuma had been expected to visit sites in Bloemfontein, but supporters turned away disappointed when the visit was cancelled. Aaron Motsoaledi, ANC national executive committee member and health minister, turned up instead, addressing a small crowd on the history of the party and the weekend's celebrations, which 46 heads of state were expected to attend.

It became clear on Friday that former president Nelson Mandela, 94, would not attend. Neither would Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, according to news agency AFP, quoting state media.

PARTY TOWN

On Friday, Bloemfontein was adorned with posters in the ANC's green, black and yellow colours. Contractors were erecting tents and stages for the celebrations.

More than 100000 people are expected to attend the main event on Sunday, to celebrate the founding of the South African Native National Congress on January 8 1912. It was renamed the African National Congress in 1923.

National executive committee member Lindiwe Zulu admitted in a frank interview with Business Day on Thursday that this was a bittersweet time for the ANC, which is battling internal problems and external factors in government.

While the 100 years were a symbol of courage and the party's resolve to fight, the ANC needed to preserve itself by returning to the principles that held it together during the struggle against apartheid, she said.

The ANC needed unity, and its leaders should be "realistic" about the kind of policies that should be implemented by the government.

In Thaba Nchu, before Mr Malema arrived, youths sang: "Malema, pray for us we are suffering. The shower man is giving us problems."

Another song was in praise of Fikile Mbalula, ANC national executive member and sports and recreation minister. The youth league wants Mr Mbalula to replace ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe at the party's elective conference in Bloemfontein in December.

Mr Mbalula, in an interview with the Business Day on Friday, said: "We need to guard against complacency, the thinking that the masses will always be on our side."

Mr Malema, who is appealing against his suspension from the party last year for ill discipline, said he was not perturbed over not sharing the podium with Mr Zuma on Sunday. "I am not here to speak ... President Zuma will speak on behalf of all of us. He was elected, whether we like him or not," he said.

On Friday, the ANC's military veterans in KwaZulu-Natal called on the ANC Youth League to respect the celebrations.

While Mr Malema was addressing his mini-rally, high-profile party members spent the morning working on their swings at the Schoeman Park golf club in Bloemfontein.

"This (the golf tournament) is a good way to show commitment to the celebrations as well as the ANC. This is what your presence (here) is really about," said Baleka Mbete, chairwoman of the ANC.