JOHANNESBURG, Mar 1 – The ruling ANC on Wednesday expelled its youth leader Julius Malema, turning against a man who helped bring South African President Jacob Zuma to power but later stood in his path to re-election.
Malema was convicted in November of provoking divisions within the African National Congress and slapped with a five-year suspension.
Earlier in February, an appeals panel upheld his conviction, but allowed him a new hearing to argue against his suspension – a move that came with the risk that the panel would decide to impose a harsher penalty.
The disciplinary panel handed down a scathing decision, accusing Malema of threatening to turn the youth against the party, which it said was “tantamount to holding the ANC to ransom”.
It justified its decision by underscoring “the cumulative effect of comrade Malema’s past and present offences, coupled with his own evidence of lack of remorse and disrespect for the ANC constitution and its structures”.
Malema was not present when the decision was announced in a statement at the ANC’s Johannesburg headquarters.
“I think it will be the end of his political career, at least for the foreseeable future,” said Dirk Kotze, political scientist at the University of South Africa in Pretoria.
“Malema without the ANC is nothing… The tradition and the history of the ANC, he needs that in order to be able to make his point. Without that he’s very much isolated.”
Malema has 14 days to appeal his expulsion, and he could decide to keep pressing his case through the rest of the year, up to the ANC leadership conference in December where he could ask the top brass to hear him out.
Malema has stirred a national debate on class and poverty with his call to nationalise mines and seize white-owned farms to help the nearly 40 percent of the population living on less than two dollars a day.
Despite the breadth of the debate, and the passions, aroused by Malema, his conviction was based largely on charges that he had tarnished the party’s reputation, created divisions within its ranks, and failed to follow its rules.
Among his offences was calling for the overthrow of the government in democratic Botswana and praising former president Thabo Mbeki, at Zuma’s expense.
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 end poverty after 18 years under an ANC government.
In a country where the median age is 25, the ANC’s Youth League claims to represent a broad swathe of a nation that would often prefer to ignore the issues of class and race that Malema raises.
South Africa has the world’s biggest gap between rich and poor, largely because of a jobs crisis that hits the youth the hardest. More than half of young South Africans are unemployed.
But Malema’s calls have been diluted by his own lavish lifestyle and shady dealings. He faces a separate police investigation into accusations he peddled his political influence in possibly corrupt business dealings.
For now, Malema’s expulsion strengthens Zuma’s hand as he seeks a second term at the helm of the party at its December conference, which would virtually guarantee him another term as president, said Joe Mavuso, a political scientist at the Institute for Democracy in Africa.
Zuma “showed that he can be a leader by disciplining Malema, to show that he’s not controlled by the youth, he’s a man of his own, that he’s the president of the movement, he’s in charge”, Mavuso said.
“But there are many other negative things that go with him,” he said, pointing to allegations of corruption hanging over Zuma’s head.
“He’s treading on dangerous ground.”