, JOHANNESBURG, Dec 19 – South African President Jacob Zuma’s foes challenged his dominance in the ruling party by re-electing an ally of his estranged protege as its leader in a northern province.
The African National Congress over the weekend re-elected Cassel Mathale as its head in Limpopo, despite allegations of financial mismanagement by his government.
In a close vote seen as open defiance against Zuma, Mathale — who is premier of the province — beat deputy culture minister Joe Phaahla with 601 votes to 519.
Mathale’s win signals the survival of his ally Julius Malema, the controversial and embattled ANC Youth League leader who hails from Limpopo and had turned into a virulent critic of Zuma.
Malema was found guilty by a civil court in September of hate speech for singing a song whose lyrics mean “shoot the white farmer”, and was banned from singing the song, a judgement he has defiantly ignored.
The 30-year-old firebrand is using all means to fight a five-year suspension from the ANC, handed down in November, for bringing the party into disrepute.
Once a staunch ally of Zuma, Malema has threatened to remove Zuma as head of the party during the ANC’s next leadership conference in December 2012.
If re-elected, Zuma will be the top candidate for a second presidential term in elections due in 2014.
The Star newspaper saw Mathale’s re-election as “Malema’s power boost”, while Business Day on Monday evoked a “snub to Zuma as Limpopo backs Malema”.
“Malema allies win in Limpopo,” the Sowetan said on its front page, while The Times said “Julius wins a round”.