, JOHANNESBURG, Mar 1 – Fighting broke out early on Thursday between rival political factions after South Africa’s ruling African National Congress expelled the firebrand leader of its Youth League, Julius Malema, reports said.
Shots were fired when a caravan of anti-Malema demonstrators brandishing a cardboard tombstone with the words “RIP Julius” and “corrupt dictator” descended on the street in the northern township of Seshego where Malema had gathered supporters ahead of his sentencing, the Sapa news agency reported.
The pro-Malema camp blockaded the road, but fighting broke out between the two factions and stones were hurled at a police car when it arrived to separate the rival groups, reports said.
Malema, 30, was convicted in November of provoking divisions in the ANC and tarnishing its image.
After initially suspending him for five years, the party’s disciplinary committee announced Wednesday night after an appeals process that it was instead expelling him, accusing him of effectively “holding the ANC to ransom” by threatening to turn the youth against the party.
Malema, who is staying at his grandmother’s house in the northern province of Limpopo, vowed not to be silenced by the sentence, which the disciplinary committee gave him 14 days to appeal.
“We must accept that this is the decision, but that is not the end of the road. It is still early to celebrate because the road ahead of us is going to be very long,” he said in a speech quoted on public broadcaster SABC.
“If you are weak, you are going to fall in the process,” he added. “I will die with my boots on, I will die for what I believe in.”
Malema’s racially charged calls to nationalise mines and redistribute land to poor blacks have made him one of South Africa’s most controversial figures.
He was a key ally in President Jacob Zuma’s rise to power, but later turned on Zuma and was seen as a threat to his re-election as ANC leader later this year at a conference that, given the party’s strength, will effectively choose South Africa’s next president.