S. Africa’s ANC dismisses youth leader’s suspension appeal
South Africa's ruling ANC suspended fiery youth leader Julius Malema on Saturday, dismissing his appeal against a disciplinary finding and quashing one of President Jacob Zuma's biggest headaches.
The decision by the African National Congress’ disciplinary appeals committee to throw out Malema’s bid to have his guilty verdict overturned threatens to derail the political career of one of the country’s most controversial figures, and cements Zuma’s position in the ANC ahead of party elections in December.
Speaking to a packed and sweltering press conference at ANC headquarters in central Johannesburg, the appeals committee’s chair, influential businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, hammered home the importance of discipline in the former anti-apartheid movement that has ruled South Africa since 1994.
“Discipline is one of the key pillars in the life of the ANC. It is an important pillar that has been solidified over many, many years and decades,” Ramaphosa said.
The ANC said the ruling meant Malema, 30, was suspended with immediate effect, stripping him of his post as ANC Youth League president.
Should he exhaust all the appeal procesess and fail to get his sentence reduced, Malema would be 35-years-old when his suspension expires, too old for youth politics, according to the party guidelines.
He was slapped with the sentence in November last year on charges that included provoking divisions in the party and damaging its image.
“Today was a sad day for Malema. It looks like there is no way that he can avoid political wilderness,” said Zamikhaya Maseti, a Pretoria-based political analyst.
“This is a critical moment in his life,” he said.
Five other top youth league officials suspended alongside him also had their appeals thrown out.
Responding to a protest by Malema and two co-accused that they were never allowed to plead for a lighter sentence, the appeals committee referred the matter back to the disciplinary committee for arguments from both sides, in favour of both decreasing and increasing the sentence.
Ramaphosa ordered the hearing be held within 14 days.
He told a packed press conference at the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg that the appeals committee had set aside one of the youth leaguers’ convictions, on a charge of barging into a meeting of senior ANC leaders.
But the other convictions were upheld — including, for Malema, that he had sowed division in the party with his praise for former president Thabo Mbeki and brought it into disrepute with a call to oust the democratic government of neighbouring Botswana.
“These utterances sought to portray the ANC leadership under President Zuma in a bad light and provoked serious divisions within the party,” said Ramaphosa.
Malema was a key ally when Zuma toppled Mbeki to take control of the ANC in 2007, but he later turned on Zuma, praising Mbeki as a better leader.
The youth league’s “young lions”, as members are known, have criticised Zuma for failing to do more to reverse the poverty still facing the large majority of blacks 18 years after the end of white-minority rule.
Their calls to nationalise mines, seize white-owned land and redistribute wealth to poor blacks have put the ruling party in an awkward position both with the black population that is the bulk of its electorate and with the business community.
But Ramaphosa said the appeals committee had found no evidence that the charges were brought to settle political scores.
“All the arguments were dealt with fairly,” he said, adding that his committee of ANC top brass had acted impartially.
Malema had already been found guilty of publicly criticising Zuma in a party disciplinary hearing in 2010.
The youth league had said Friday its leaders would report the outcome of the appeal in person to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former president Nelson Mandela and in the past a top Malema backer in the ANC.
But Madikizela-Mandela appeared to spurn the visit Saturday, releasing a statement saying she was on leave after knee surgery and had not been informed of the visit.