ANC president Jacob Zuma took a swipe at African leaders such as Robert Mugabe who "refuse to step down" and overstay their political welcome.
Zuma was speaking at a celebratory ANC dinner in KwaZuluNatal to welcome the new ANC leadership and pay tribute to outgoing premier and ANC chairman S'bu Ndebele.
Acknowledging Ndebele, Zuma said: "You are a good political student . who knows how to step down with dignity . you have learnt from our great leaders such as Madiba.
"In Africa we have some political leaders who refuse to bow out and try to change the constitution to accommodate themselves . as in neigbouring Zimbabwe."
Zuma also publicly acknowledged the challenge of leading the volatile province of KwaZuluNatal, especially when political tensions between the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party were at an all-time high.
"Flanked by a highly capable deputy (Zweli Mkhize) you provided dynamic leadership and managed a precious and peaceful co-existence with the IFP," Zuma said.
He also congratulated Ndebele for his role in making sure that the recent provincial election was "united and peaceful", unlike in other provinces.
Welcoming Mkhize to his new position Zuma said it was important for transparency and open debate within the ANC to continue saying that "open discussion and debate" should be encouraged.
He said "politics does not sleep" and it was important for a leader not to allow "the gossip" to swelter.
He said he wanted to bid farewell to one of South Africa's "finest leaders" and "welcome an even finer leader".
In a show of public unity Ndebele and Mkhize embraced. They fired the party's first electioneering salvo for next year's poll, urging everyone to vote for the ANC.