S.Africa's Zuma seen stronger after Malema's suspension
South African President Jacob Zuma tightened his grip on his party with ANC youth leader Julius Malema's suspension, but analysts warned a new populist firebrand would replace him 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 a 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 newspaper said.
"His banishment to the political wilderness will certainly make it more difficult for them to gain momentum before Mangaung without risking decapitation."
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 and then leading the ANC to remove him as president in 2008.
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.
The question now is how long Zuma can stay on top, analysts said, noting that Malema's suspension will do nothing to address the issues behind his popularity: fighting poverty and unemployment.
"It would be a mistake... to interpret Mr Malema's suspension as the end of political radicalism within the country," said Frans Cronje, deputy chief executive of the South African Institute of Race Relations.
"Inevitably, if the country is not able to sustain significantly higher levels of economic growth, new Malemas will come to the fore either inside or outside the ANC."
Overall unemployment has meen mired around 25 percent for years, but for the youth, the figure is more than 50 percent, Cronje said.
Only 60 percent of first graders are likely to graduate high school. Nearly one third of South African households get their biggest income from state welfare grants, he added.
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.
Against that backdrop, Malema's calls to fight poverty by nationalising mines and seizing white-owned farms without compensation resonated in a country with one of the world's biggest gaps between rich and poor.
"We do not fully appreciate the dangers of such a raw divide and how they provide a breeding ground for populist tendencies," said Fiona Forde, author of a new Malema biography.
© 2011 AFP