Bloemfontein (South Africa): Tens of thousands of chanting and dancing revellers waved the green and gold colours of the African National Congress as Africa's oldest liberation movement celebrated its 100th anniversary on Sunday, though many South Africans say the party hasn't delivered on its promises since taking power in 1994.

A dozen African leaders and more former heads of state along with African kings and chieftains attended a midnight ceremony where President Jacob Zuma lit a flame, expected to stay alight the entire year, at the red brick, tin-roofed Wesleyan church where black intellectuals and activists founded the party in 1912.

Absent because of his frailty was Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president who is just six years younger than his movement. The world icon was jailed for 27 years by the racist white government and his organisation was declared a terrorist group by the United States.

Joy at the ANC's leading role in ending white minority rule in 1994 was tinged with sadness over the its failure to bring a better life to most South Africans, and corruption scandals that have embroiled its members in recent years.

"It means a lot to be alive when the ANC is celebrating 100 years of its existence," Mayor Tulani Sebego of Bergville told a news channel.

He said the party had gained strength along with challenges, "but it has managed to come through it to on Sunday, it is here, 100 years and I want to believe it will reach 200 years."

The stadium at Bloemfontein, upgraded to a 45,000-seater for the 2010 soccer World Cup, overflowed on Sunday with crowds that spilled outside, dancing and singing under a blazing sun.

Dozens of buses lined up to drop off celebrants waiting for an afternoon address by Zuma.

Zuma has said the ANC will rule "until Jesus comes" but the next few years will be critical ones for the party that has won a landslide victory in every election for the last 18 years.

The ANC describes itself as the home of the working class and the poor, but inequality has grown in recent years even as a small black elite around the party has become multimillionaires flaunting lavish lifestyles.

Unemployment hovers around 36 percent and soars to 70 percent among young people. Half the country's population lives on just 8 percent of the national income, according to the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

A warning sign came from the town of Clarens, where stone-throwing protesters smashed the windows of a bus that was to transport supporters to the centenary celebrations in Bloemfontein, 260 kilometres (160 miles) away.

Protesters, demanding ANC municipal leaders be fired for failing to deliver basic services like tap water, stoned vehicles and blocked the road to Bloemfontein, Talk Radio 702 reported.

(Agencies)