JOHANNESBURG, The national leadership of South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) is grappling with how to win back support from the black middle class as the party prepares to stage a crucial policy conference beginning here Friday.

In a discussion document to be presented to the conference, which wil;l run until July 5, the ANC questions how it can remain relevant. The party is still reeling after losing control of the three of the country's eight metropolitan municipalities -- Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay -- in last year's local government elections.

University of Johannesburg associate professor Mcebisi Ndletyana says the middle-class is angry. The middle class is bitter because of the financial contribution they are making to the well-being of the Republic. There is anger, and then you have unethical conduct by the leadership. It's like there is no centre. People do as they please, money is being wasted.

Meanwhile, the ANC says more women need to be part of the mainstream economy and decision-making structures in South Africa, according to a conference policy discussion document entitled "Social Transformation".

"There is still a need to effectively implement programmes and policies geared towards the development of women," says the discussion document, which notes how women, especially those who live in poverty and those who are disabled, need to be afforded access to opportunities and access to free basic services.

A fight against patriarchy is also mentioned in the document, but little on how the party plans to do so. "We must also ensure that we work with the rest of society and in particular, the private sector to ensure that women are part of the decision-making structures in society and ensure that women are part of the mainstreaming economy."