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 violence that injured a police officer and at least five journalists Tuesday as police clashed with supporters 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 internal charges of "sowing divisions" in the ANC and bringing the ruling party into disrepute.

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.

"We the youth of South Africa are behind Malema, we support his ideas for economic reforms," Patrick Mokgomotsi, 18, told AFP outside ANC headquarters.

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 South Africans on edge with his racially charged rhetoric.

University of South Africa political analyst Dirk Kotze said Tuesday's clashes -- in which Malema's supporters threw beer bottles and rocks and burned pictures of President Jacob Zuma -- 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.

In a sign of the gap between official policy and Malema's calls for an economic overhaul, the government published a new draft land reform policy Wednesday that reaffirmed its commitment to an open-market system -- a far cry from Malema's calls to expropriate white-owned land without compensation.

The hearings come as Zuma, who came to power in 2009, is struggling to consolidate his support in the ANC.

Malema, a key ally in Zuma's ouster of predecessor Thabo Mbeki from the helm of the ANC, 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 the hearings put Zuma in a tricky position: if the ANC expels or suspends Malema, the youth league may mobilise to oust him the same way it supported his own ouster of Mbeki as party president in 2007.

"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."

The ANC has been secretive about the contents of the hearing. Spokesman Jackson Mthembu would say only that the disciplinary committee was still dealing with Malema's case Wednesday afternoon.

"At some point (the outcome) will be made public, that's what our constitution says: that the outcome of any hearing should be made public," he told AFP.

The hearing adjourned Wednesday and was expected to resume Friday.

© 2011 AFP

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