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Fiery youth leader Malema faces ANC hearing

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress opens a disciplinary hearing Tuesday against the firebrand leader of its youth wing after accusations that he plotted against President Jacob Zuma.

ANC Youth League president Julius Malema — who has caused controversy with his racially charged rhetoric and flashy lifestyle — faces charges of “bringing the ANC into disrepute” and “sowing divisions” in the ruling party.

Malema, who is charged along with five other top youth league officials, could be kicked out of the ANC at the closed-door hearing, after being found guilty of criticising Zuma by the party’s disciplinary committee last year.

However most analysts expect him to be either suspended or cleared.

Malema was a key ally in Zuma’s rise to power, but has since fallen foul of the president, who came to office in 2009 and is struggling to consolidate his support in the ANC ahead of the party’s elective conference next year.

Zuma is hoping to be re-elected as the party’s president which will allow him to stand for second term as president in the country’s national elections in 2014.

The charge against Malema of “sowing divisions” comes after media reports linking him to a movement to oust Zuma as party leader.

The youth league, whose calls to nationalise mines have met resistance from ANC top brass, would reportedly like to see Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe replace Zuma as party leader — a shuffle that would almost certainly make Motlanthe the country’s next leader, and Zuma a one-term president.

Despite the cooling of relations with one-time ally Zuma, Malema remains immensely powerful within the ANC whose youth wing is one of the main components of the party’s electoral college. It was co-founded by Nelson Mandela.

He enjoys a large personal following and has drawn crowds numbering in their thousands at recent court appearances.

The charge of “bringing the ANC into disrepute” stems from a call last month by Malema for regime change in neighbouring Botswana, a diamond-rich country that he said had a “puppet government” that was “in full cooperation with imperialists.”

Malema later apologised for the remarks after a public rebuke from the ANC.

The 30-year-old leader has never been far from controversy since winning election as the league’s president in 2008.

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

And he has been a polarising figure in post-apartheid race relations with his talent for claiming front pages with racially charged rhetoric.

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 judge’s ruling is still pending.

Malema also caused an outcry last year when he kicked a BBC journalist out of a press conference, calling him a “bastard” and a “bloody agent” with a “white tendency” after the journalist interrupted him.

Malema’s vocal support for long-time Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has also garnered criticism and posed a diplomatic headache for Zuma, who is trying to broker peace between Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in their uneasy power-sharing agreement.

Despite his political base among impoverished blacks, Malema has become known for his posh standard of living. He makes his home in the upmarket Johannesburg neighbourhood of Sandton, wears a Breitling watch and has a taste for fast cars and Gucci suits.

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.