S.Africa's Zuma seen stronger after Malema's suspension
President Jacob Zuma tightened his grip on his party with ANC youth leader Julius Malema's suspension, South African newspapers said Friday, but warned a new populist firebrand will emerge unless more jobs are created.
The ruling African National Congress on Thursday slapped Malema with a five-year suspension, after a disciplinary committee found him guilty of provoking serious divisions within the party.
Malema has vowed to appeal, a process that could take more than year and ultimately end up before the top leadership at the ANC's elective conference in December 2012 in Bloemfontein, also known as Mangaung, where Zuma will seek backing for a second term as president.
"It was clear for some time that Mr Malema was being used as a proxy by potential rivals to Mr Zuma, who were wary of sticking their heads above the parapet too early," Business Day said.
"His banishment to the political wilderness will certainly make it more difficult for them to gain momentum before Mangaung without risking decapitation."
"There is no doubt that that Zuma would be emboldened by the outcome of the disciplinary hearing," The New Age newspaper said.
The ANC has been split for years, due largely to in-fighting between Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki.
Zuma was once Mbeki's deputy president, but was sacked when Zuma's financial adviser was jailed on corruption charges.
Zuma regrouped and orchestrated a palace coup against Mbeki, unseating him first as party leader in December 2008, and then leading the ANC as it removed him as president nine months later.
A faction of the ANC broke away, but the splinter party soon fizzled, undone by its own internal leadership battles.
Malema was a key foot soldier in Zuma's rise to power. Malema said he was ready to "kill" for Zuma. Zuma said he saw a future South African president in Malema.
Their honeymoon was short. Over the last two years, Malema started praising Mbeki as a better president than Zuma, and began floating the idea of current Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe taking over the party.
Other powerful figures in the ANC have supported Malema, most visibly Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, and housing minister Tokyo Sexwale.
Malema's calls to fight poverty by nationalising mines and seizing white-owned farms without compensation also spoke to the deep social divisions in South Africa, which has one of the world's biggest gaps between rich and poor.
The Youth League has vowed to carry on with its "economic freedom" campaign, which it hopes will resonate among the nation's poor.
"Zuma is consolidating his grip on the party, but powerful figures in the ANC's executive have rallied behind Malema, whose campaign to have the mines nationalised has gained momentum in recent months. The country could be in for a bumpy ride," The Times said.
Zuma has vowed to create five million jobs by 2020, but the country has yet to replace all the jobs lost during the recession two years ago.
With the unemployment rate mired around 25 percent, newspapers warned that a new populist leader would soon take Malema's place.
"If Mr Zuma wants more than a temporary respite politically, and to establish a lasting legacy, he will have to take meaningful steps to address the obstacles that are stopping the economy from growing and creating jobs," Business Day said.
© 2011 AFP