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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu launched her bid on Saturday to succeed scandal-hit President Jacob Zuma as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) by vowing to help save the ruling party from infighting and corruption.

Sisulu, a veteran cabinet minister who comes from a prominent family in the struggle against apartheid, last week joined the crowded race to replace Zuma in a party leadership contest in December.

The ANC has become increasingly divided over Zuma's leadership following a series of corruption scandals, a much-criticised cabinet reshuffle and a failure to handle an economy that has slipped into recession.

Zuma can remain head of state until an election 2019 but his opponents inside the ANC would like to remove him as president once he steps down as party leader.

Kicking off her campaign, Sisulu said the party needed to get back to its roots.

"I would like you to stand with me, because we have to save the ANC. Saving the ANC is to save South Africa," she said in a speech in Kliptown, Soweto.

Sisulu also called for an end to the corruption that has dogged Zuma's government. Media reports about a trove of leaked emails has heaped pressure on him to allow a judicial commission to investigate graft claims. He has denied wrongdoing.

Members of the ANC have pushed for Zuma to step down as have alliance partners, the trade union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

He also faces a no-confidence motion in parliament on Aug. 8 tabled by Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition party Democratic Alliance.

With campaigning yet to start, Zuma, has openly backed his ex-wife and former African Union president, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, while Cosatu and the SACP have voiced support for deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

(Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Helen Popper)

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Reuters