Cyril Ramaphosa used his first major speech as leader of the ruling African National Congress to pledge a crackdown on state looting in South Africa — delivering a veiled rebuke to Jacob Zuma, the president, who is fighting to keep his job as his authority ebbs in the party.

At a stadium-filling rally marking the ANC’s 106th anniversary, Mr Ramaphosa, the deputy president, said that under his leadership the party would give top priority to prosecuting those responsible for graft flourishing under Mr Zuma’s presidency.

“We shall confront corruption and state capture in all the forms and manifestations that these scourges assume,” Mr Ramaphosa said, using a term for the alleged influence on government of the Gupta family who are friends of Mr Zuma.

Mr Zuma, who was booed as he made an appearance at the rally in East London in the Eastern Cape province, is fighting calls for him to be fired by the ANC as president and be replaced by Mr Ramaphosa.

Mr Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist who became one of South Africa’s richest black businessmen, emerged victorious in a party election last month over the candidate backed by Mr Zuma — who is officially due to end his second and final term as president in 2019.

This week Mr Zuma relented on establishing a long-delayed judicial inquiry into the state capture scandal — including the Guptas alleged sway over his cabinet appointments — in order to head off a revolt by senior ANC members.

But as well as calling for prosecutions alongside the work of the inquiry, Mr Ramaphosa challenged Mr Zuma’s authority further on Saturday by calling for an overhaul of police and prosecutors who are seen as failing to stop corruption.

“We must work to restore the credibility of public institutions, including state-owned companies and law enforcement agencies,” by removing undue political interference, Mr Ramaphosa said.

He added that “intelligence services, the police and the prosecutorial authorities should be strengthened and fortified,” and must “be at the forefront of the fight against corruption and state capture”.

Opposition parties and civil society groups have accused Mr Zuma of filling police and prosecutorial posts with pliant appointees in order to halt investigation of the Guptas’ alleged influence and other scandals.

Observers say that Mr Ramaphosa and his allies are seeking to convince Mr Zuma to accept a graceful early resignation over a humiliating removal by the ANC or even impeachment through parliament.

At the same time Mr Ramaphosa has inherited a badly split ANC, including senior party posts being held by Mr Zuma’s supporters.

Corruption had “weakened key institutions, discouraged investment and contributed to division” within the ANC, Mr Ramaphosa said on Saturday.

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