Zuma offers olive branch to embattled S.African youth leader

13th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

South African President Jacob Zuma offered an olive branch Tuesday to his party's embattled youth leader Julius Malema, who risks expulsion from the ruling ANC this week.

Malema, whose singing of an apartheid anthem called "shoot the white farmer" was deemed hate speech by a civil court on Monday, has roiled the ruling party with his calls to nationalise mines and expropriate white-owned farms.

He and five other top officials of the African National Congress' youth wing have been hauled before party disciplinary hearings, accused of sowing divisions in the party and bringing it into disrepute.

The hearings opened two weeks ago with an explosion of violence, as thousands of angry supporters threw rocks at journalists and police and burned pictures of Zuma.

But in his first comments since the disciplinary hearings began, Zuma struck a conciliatory tone, calling Malema a "very good" young man and a good communicator.

Zuma said the youth leader's need to be in the spotlight puts him "on the border of saying things that are radical and problematic", but denied the party was trying to silence him.

"No, I don't think that should be the objective. I think the objective is how do you help Malema? Because Malema has a lot of elements that are good in him," Zuma told The Star newspaper.

The interview was published as disciplinary hearings resumed Tuesday for Malema's five deputies.

The unrest last month prompted the ANC to move the hearings from party headquarters in downtown Johannesburg to a recreation centre on the southern outskirts of the city.

Police were tightly controlling access to the area, with journalists kept several hundred metres (yards) away. Officers were stopping and searching public transport vehicles that tried to enter the area.

Malema arrived at the venue just after 9:00 am (0700 GMT), but the ANC said the disciplinary committee would deal with his deputies Tuesday and would only resume Malema's case Thursday.

An ANC spokesman said the process, which has captured national attention despite the tight lid the ruling party has kept on the proceedings, was expected to wrap up Saturday.

"It will last for the whole day (Tuesday). It will adjourn tomorrow (Wednesday) and reconvene on Thursday until Saturday," Keith Khoza told AFP.

With his racially charged rhetoric and calls to redistribute wealth to impoverished blacks, Malema has shown a talent for grabbing the spotlight since becoming president of the Youth League in 2008.

On Tuesday he was found guilty of hate speech for his public singing of an anti-apartheid struggle song whose Zulu chorus, "dubula ibhunu", roughly translates as "shoot the white farmer."

A civil court judge banned further singing of the song and ordered Malema to pay a portion of the costs for the case. Khoza said the ANC will likely appeal the ruling.

Malema's radical rhetoric and high profile have also put him at odds with Zuma.

The president rose to power with Malema's backing, but has since lost the support of the Youth League, which is frustrated over his failure to embrace Malema's economic policy proposals.

Losing the Youth League's backing could hurt Zuma's effort to seek a second term at a party meeting next year that will choose a presidential candidate who is all but certain to become South Africa's next leader.

© 2011 AFP

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