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South Africa’s ANC re-opens Malema hearing after violence

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 the thousands of youths who waged violent protests Tuesday, injuring a police officer and at least five journalists.

Youth wing leader Julius 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.

The first day of his hearing before the ANC’s disciplinary committee saw supporters throw beer bottles and rocks at police and journalists and burn T-shirts with the image of President Jacob Zuma.

The ANC condemned the violence and said it was moving the hearing to an undisclosed venue outside Johannesburg. But party spokesman Jackson Mthembu shifted gears Wednesday and said the hearing would continue at Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters.

“The hearing will be held at Luthuli House. However, if the situation does not improve from Tuesday, it will be moved to an alternative venue,” he told the Sapa news agency.

Tuesday’s 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.

“You are here because you love the ANC. We must exercise restraint,” he said.

“We must never burn the flag of the ANC because it is who we are.”

University of South Africa political analyst Dirk Kotze said Tuesday’s clashes showed there was a power struggle between the youth league and the ANC.

“Yesterday’s 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 Wednesday.

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

Zuma, who became South Africa’s third black president in 2009 after ousting 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.

He is also in trouble over his call last month for regime change in neighbouring Botswana, which he said had a “puppet government” that was “in full cooperation with imperialists.”

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 he has also set many people on edge with his racially charged rhetoric, including his controversial singing of an anti-apartheid struggle song whose chorus loosely translates as “shoot the white farmer.”