With his political career at stake, firebrand South African politician Julius Malema faced a ruling ANC disciplinary hearing for a second day yesterday as Johannesburg police deployed in force to prevent any repeat of riots by Malema’s supporters.
The African National Congress, which has charged the ANC Youth League leader with bringing the party into disrepute, started the hearing on Tuesday at its Johannesburg headquarters, where thousands of Malema supporters burned ANC flags and hurled rocks and bottles at journalists and police.
Yesterday, fewer than 200 Malema supporters gathered for a rally behind razor wire barricades set up by police armed with shields, truncheons and guns that fire rubber bullets.
The hearing, postponed to tomorrow, is a high-stakes gamble for both President Jacob Zuma and Malema, who has alarmed investors with calls to nationalise mines in the resource-rich country.
Malema’s lawyers want the charges against him dropped and the disciplinary committee will deliberate today whether to dismiss the case, local media reported.
Malema, 30, seen as a potential future ANC leader, faces possible suspension from the party. But if he is exonerated, Zuma could be fighting for his political survival.
The youth leader, who has no direct policy-making power but is one of the ANC’s most popular politicians, has galvanised the support of South Africa’s poor black majority with his calls to seize and redistribute mineral and agricultural wealth.
Malema has been sniping at Zuma’s leadership in recent months and seems to have pushed the ANC to take action when the Youth League embarrassed Pretoria by calling for the ouster of the elected government of ally and neighbour Botswana.
If found guilty of sowing discord in party ranks — in Malema’s second disciplinary hearing in just over 12 months — he could be suspended from the party for several years.
Expulsion would silence his calls for nationalisation of the mining sector, to the relief of investors, but would anger his legions of supporters.
Five other Youth League leaders also face the disciplinary committee in hearings expected to spill into next week.
The hearings are widely seen in South Africa as a showdown between Zuma and Malema ahead of an ANC meeting in 2012 when the politically dominant party elects its leaders.
Zuma rose to power with Malema’s support, but has seen his rivals wooing the now disenchanted politician to try to seize control of the ANC.
“Jacob Zuma, keeping an eye on re-election and his legacy, is attempting to do what he should have done long ago, which is to roll back some of these advances by Malema and those courting him,” said independent political analyst Nic Borain.
Senior party officials in recent weeks have criticised Malema’s calls for the state to take over mines, saying the debate is scaring away investors from Africa’s largest economy.
Economists say nationalisation, with a price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars would bankrupt South Africa.
In another sign of the party turning against Malema, former ANC guerrillas who battled to end apartheid accused the Youth League of undermining the ANC’s ideals.
For more on the subject of protests, consider attending defenceWeb‘s Public Order Policing conference at Gallagher Estate on October 3-4.
For more information contact Maggie Pienaar at ++27 11 807 3294 or [email protected]