Tough week ahead for S.African youth leader Malema

9th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

South African youth leader Julius Malema faces a tough week, with the resumption Sunday of a disciplinary hearing that could boot him from the ruling ANC and a verdict due Monday in his hate speech trial.

The firebrand chief of the African National Congress' youth league faces expulsion if found guilty of "sowing dissent" and bringing the party into "disrepute" when he called for neighbouring Botswana's President Ian Khama to be overthrown.

Five other top youth league officials are also charged in the hearings, widely seen as a battle for influence over the ANC ahead of party elections next year where the top leadership posts will be chosen.

The opening of the hearing last week was marred by violent protests which left a police officer and at least five journalists injured as supporters threw beer bottles and burned t-shirts with President Jacob Zuma's image.

The violence was condemned by the ANC, which also rejected a move by Malema to have the charges dropped after he apologised for the remarks on Botswana.

"Despite being a relatively young member of the party, he has created a niche for himself within the party, which places ANC in a difficult situation," said Joleen Steyn-Kotze, political analyst at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

"We must understand that Malema is in a powerful position, he was instrumental in bringing Jacob Zuma into power."

Malema vocally backed Zuma's ouster of predecessor Thabo Mbeki from the helm of the ANC, but has since fallen out with the president who came to power in 2009.

Now Malema is accused of sowing divisions, after media reports linked him to a movement to oust Zuma as party leader.

The youth league appears to be pushing for Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to take over as party boss, which would make him the ANC candidate in general elections in 2014 and leave Zuma as a one-term president.

Malema, 30, is notorious for racially charged rhetoric, making him one of South Africa's most controversial figures.

His calls to nationalise the country's mines and redistribute profits to poor blacks have set the mining industry and international investors on edge.

Malema was taken to court in May this year for publicly singing an anti-apartheid struggle song whose chorus loosely translates as "shoot the white farmer".

The lobby group that brought the case wants the song banned as hate speech. The judgement is expected Monday.

He's already been convicted once of hate speech, for saying a woman who had accused Zuma of rape had "a nice time". Zuma was cleared of the charge.

Despite his scandals, Zuma, Malema remains influential within the ANC, whose youth wing is one of the main components of the party's electoral college.

Malema was found guilty of criticising Zuma in another ANC disciplinary hearing last year, and faces possible expulsion from the party if found guilty again.

Despite his political base among impoverished blacks, Malema has become known for enjoying the high life. He lives in the upmarket Johannesburg neighbourhood of Sandton, wears a Breitling watch and has a taste for fast cars.

His wealth became the subject of a police investigation after a local newspaper reported he was the beneficiary of a trust fund that allegedly received kickbacks from businesses that won valuable government tenders.

© 2011 AFP

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