The ruling party would continue with its policies of affirmative action in order to "redress the imbalances of the past", said African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma, speaking at the Solidarity Congress on Thursday.
Solidarity is a mainly white and Afrikaans trade union.
The presidential front runner said that society remains greatly unequal and that the ANC would continue to work to close the gaps.
Outlining the ANC's economic policy, Zuma said that no economy could succeed if the majority of citizens were mere workers and "not owners or managers of the means of production".
"For the sake of growing [South Africa's] economy in a sustainable manner," Zuma said that the ANC would "continue [its] economic transformation policies".
Policies such as broad based black economic empowerment would be continued, Zuma explained, but there would be a new focus on implementation and reaching a broader spectrum of society.
Zuma added that job security and opportunities were at the core of the ruling party's economic policy. Thus, the ANC welcomed the role of trade unions in facilitating skills development.
Flip Buys, general secretary of Solidarity, followed Zuma's address with the statement that the trade union supported the policy of affirmative action. He said, however, that this policy should not address inequality in any way that would create new inequality.
Leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Mangosuthu Buthelezi, followed with the statement that "affirmative action [had] closed the door on a vast treasury of skills, experience and expertise".
Buthelezi said that in 2004 the IFP had signed a memorandum of understanding with Solidarity, rejecting "the implementation of affirmative action to the extent that it discriminate[d] against any South African".
While the social injustices of the past must be redressed, Buthelezi said that a "shared understanding" of the goal was required. "Without a clear vision," he said, South Africa "will never fully emerge from the shadow of social injustice."