South Africa’s controversial ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema today dismissed claims he would oppose President Jacob Zuma’s re-election as leader of the ruling party.
Speaking at the opening of the Youth League’s elective conference, where he is set to sail into a second term as president of the most powerful bloc within the ANC, Malema accused the media of fabricating a rift between him and Zuma.
“Sitting here are your protectors. These are the people who delivered you to the Union Buildings (the official seat of the government) and we will forever protect you,” Malema told Zuma, who was at the event. “You have no reason to doubt us.”
But ANC insiders said despite his comments, Malema is at odds with Zuma, who has dismissed the league’s drives to nationalise mines in the world’s biggest platinum producer and seize white-owned farms.
Speaking at the conference, Zuma called on critics not to read too much into discussions within the ruling party, saying that differing views should not be stifled.
“One of the problems that face our critics and the people who tell stories about us is that they are not used to democratic organisations,” he said. “If there is an open debate, they think it is a fight.”
Malema, the son of a maid, has been one of South Africa’s most powerful politicians since becoming Youth League president three years ago. The league is regarded as a king-maker within the ANC, and is often used by party bigwigs to launch leadership bids and float policy ideas.
ANC insiders said Malema is fronting a leadership bid backed by rich members in the ruling party which aims to replace Zuma and other top ANC leaders, while furthering his own aspiration of one day becoming South Africa’s president.
Malema’s racist comments and repeated singing of anti-apartheid anthems advocating shooting white farmers have antagonised South Africa’s 5.1 million taxpayers, but have endeared him to the majority still mired in abject poverty despite the country’s economic gains.
His calls for land and mine seizures have spooked investors but are unlikely to become government policy.
“Mines in South Africa can and should be nationalised,” Malema said, repeating his calls for the state to take over mining operations.
About 6,000 delegates from across South Africa’s nine province are attending the four-day Youth League conference, with 5,500 participants expected to cast votes.
The opening of the conference corresponds with the Soweto Uprising. Up to 500 people were killed on this day in 1976 when police opened fire on unarmed black students protesting being taught in Afrikaans, the language of the apartheid government.
All nine provinces have nominated Malema for a second term as president and the League will only vote if another candidate is nominated from the floor. Other executive positions, including the post of secretary-general, are up for grabs.
Pro-Zuma supporters in the trade union federation COSATU and the communist party have warned that if Malema succeeds in ousting Zuma at the ANC’s elective conference next year, corruption will increase and the country will head towards becoming a “banana republic”.