Tug-of-war in South Africa's ANC as Malema hearing re-opens

31st August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Riot police sealed off South Africa's ruling party HQ Wednesday to prevent a repeat of violence as the ANC held a second day of disciplinary hearings against its firebrand youth leader.

With heavy security outside the African National Congress' Johannesburg headquarters, there was no sign of a return to the violent protests that injured a police officer and at least five journalists Tuesday.

By midday Wednesday only a small crowd had arrived in support of ANC youth league leader Julius Malema.

Malema, an outspoken 30-year-old whose racially charged rhetoric has made him one of South Africa's most controversial figures, faces charges of "bringing the ANC into disrepute" and "sowing divisions" in the ruling party.

Five other top youth league officials are also charged in the hearings, widely seen as a tug-of-war for influence over the ANC ahead of party elections next year.

"Today I came to show support for the leaders of the ANC youth league. We elected them, that is why we are here," said Isaac Suping, 24, from the town of Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.

"We the youth of South Africa are behind Malema, we support his ideas for economic reforms," said Patrick Mokgomotsi, 18, from Boksburg, east of Johannesburg.

With his calls to nationalise the country's mines and redistribute wealth to impoverished blacks, Malema has become a galvanising figure for millions of black youths, but has also set many people on edge with his racially charged rhetoric.

The first day of hearings saw supporters throw beer bottles and rocks at police and journalists and burn T-shirts with the image of President Jacob Zuma.

The violence was broadly condemned in South Africa, including by key ANC allies such as the Communist Party and Cosatu, the country's largest labour federation.

Malema himself emerged from his closed-door hearing and tried to calm his supporters Tuesday, telling them to "exercise restraint".

University of South Africa political analyst Dirk Kotze said Tuesday's clashes were a sign of a power struggle between the youth league and the broader ANC.

"(The) march demonstrated the power of the youth league, basically the protesters saying we can take on senior leadership of the party and we can take on their authority," he said.

"From a tactical point of view, what happened... could have a negative effect on Malema because the ANC could say to him that he can't control his own people and must put his house in order before criticizing the party and its leadership."

Zuma, who became president in 2009 after ousting predecessor Thabo Mbeki from the helm of the ANC, is struggling to consolidate his support in the party.

Malema, a key ally in Zuma's rise to power, has since fallen out with the president.

The youth league would like to see Zuma replaced by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe -- a change that would almost certainly make Motlanthe South Africa's next leader at elections in 2014, and Zuma a one-term president.

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.

University of Witwatersrand political analyst Susan Booysen said if the ANC expels or suspends Malema, it could have negative consequences for Zuma if the youth league mobilises to oust him in the same way it supported his own ouster of Mbeki.

"The ANC definitely had the upper hand (Tuesday) but the problem of the youth league is not going to go away," she said.

"They (the youth league) could have the ultimate revenge, because we have seen Malema has the ability to mobilise support on the ground.

"So getting rid of Malema will not be the end of the war."

© 2011 AFP

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