Tens of thousands of chanting and dancing revellers have waved the green and gold colours of the African National Congress as Africa's oldest liberation movement celebrated its 100th anniversary.
A dozen African leaders and more former heads of state along with African kings and chieftains attended a 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. He 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 said.
He said the party had gained strength along with challenges, "but it has managed to come through it to today, 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 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.
Mr 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 have become multimillionaires flaunting lavish lifestyles.