South Africa’s Malema says ready to step aside

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Firebrand ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, facing suspension from South Africa’s ruling party, said he is ready to step down if it will bring unity to a political group increasingly divided over his calls to take over mines.

Malema, 30, faces a disciplinary hearing from Tuesday on charges he has brought the ruling African National Congress into disrepute and for sowing discord in the ranks — which could bring suspension for several years if found guilty. Five other top Youth League officials also face charges.

Malema’s repeated calls to nationalise mines and seize white-owned land have unnerved investors. He has no direct policy-making power but has the ability to influence millions of poor South Africans who see him as a future leader of Africa’s biggest economy, Reuters reports.
“If the ANC defines your future as expulsion, you need to accept that,” Malema told a news conference at ANC headquarters.

President Jacob Zuma rose to power with Malema’s support but has seen his rivals court Malema to try to seize control of the ANC. If Malema is suspended, Zuma can likely thwart his rivals but if he is exonerated, the president could be fighting for his political survival.

Suspension would leave Malema in the political wilderness, without enough support to challenge the ANC, which dominates the country’s politics, and facing permanent expulsion if he attacks it when temporarily cast from its ranks.

Malema said he expected to prevail, adding, “We have serious confidence in the leadership and organisation processes.”

Malema, who struck tones from defiant to conciliatory during the news conference, said his calls for radical economic reform will live on due to the economic inequalities in the country.
“Nationalism will never change. Expropriation without compensation will never change,” Malema said. “Whether you expel us or don’t expel us, these resolutions will never change.”

NATIONALISATION FEARS

If Malema is exonerated, it would add strength to his calls for a takeover of the mining sector — a move analysts say would bankrupt the country.

They say South Africa cannot afford nationalisation because the market capitalisation of its listed mining firms amounts to about two-thirds of its gross domestic product and twice its annual national budget.

If it tries to expropriate shares at a fraction of their value, the country could violate international investment guarantees that would trigger its global trading isolation.

The ANC will examine nationalism at a policy meeting in late 2012, where it will also elect its leaders.

Analysts said the consensus building nature of the highly fractured party prevents it from quickly adopting policies, especially one as risky as nationalisation. But it could eventually adopt policies that drive up mining costs.

The nationalisation debate would also likely quieten if Malema, its most vocal advocate, is suspended.

Malema’s most recent clash with the ANC top brass stems from the League’s call for the overthrow of the elected government of neighbouring Botswana, a diplomatic faux pas for Pretoria. Malema’s League has made other statements that run counter to the government’s foreign policy but never faced punishment.

In recent weeks, the police and a government corruption buster have launched separate probes into his finances, which include a suspected slush fund used to pay for a lavish lifestyle of fancy cars and flashy parties.