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EAST LONDON, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling ANC vowed on Saturday to create jobs, improve education and health and fight crime in a shift to the left at the launch of its manifesto before this year's parliamentary election.
Party leader Jacob Zuma told thousands of supporters in the coastal town of East London that the ANC manifesto would focus on five areas: job creation, health, education, food security and rural development, and fighting corruption and crime.
"The creation of decent work is at the centre of all our economic policies. We will put in place a comprehensive state-led industrial policy that will direct public and private investment to support employment creation and broader economic transformation," he said.
The pledge to use government intervention more to fight poverty and secure jobs was welcomed by the ANC's leftist allies -- the labour federation COSATU and the South African Communist Party (SACP).
"(The manifesto) commits the ANC government to develop an industrial strategy that focuses on energy and food sovereignty and security, on jobs and not profits as the key priority," the party said in a statement.
But investors fear the left might pressure an ANC government to ditch policies that helped spur nearly a decade of growth in Africa's biggest economy.
The ANC has ruled South Africa with a large majority since the end of apartheid in 1994, but is facing a challenge from the Congress of the People (COPE), a party of loyalists to former President Thabo Mbeki that broke away from the ANC last year.
COPE, led by former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, has not released its election programme, but it has signalled that it will adopt centrist, pro-business policies similar to those pursued by Mbeki during his nine years in office.
Although COPE would be hard pressed to defeat the ANC, the new party could gain enough black votes to deny it an absolute parliamentary majority at the election due around April.
Former President Nelson Mandela, who has distanced himself from political life, did not attend the launch but urged the party in a statement to uphold its principles.
"We once more look to the ANC to provide leadership in creating the circumstances for our people to enjoy the democratic rights for which we all fought so bravely and with so much sacrifice," local media reported him as saying.
Zuma said the ANC would work towards a free and better education for the poor and fight illiteracy. It would also launch a national health insurance scheme and seek to halve the rate of new AIDS infections.
Opposition Democratic Alliance's leader Helen Zille said the manifesto was long on promises, but short on credibility.
"Every one of Jacob Zuma's utterances is contradicted by the experience in reality," she said in a statement.
Zille said the ANC had failed in the last years to cut South Africa's high unemployment -- now at around 23 percent --, erase its chronic power shortages and bring people out of poverty.
She also condemned Zuma's aim to fight corruption, pointing to the charges of alleged corruption against the party leader.
A South African court will hand down a judgment on Monday on an appeal by prosecutors against a decision to throw out bribery, fraud and other charges against Zuma.
Re-opening the case could hurt the ANC president's image and almost certainly overlap with his campaign for the presidency.