A disciplinary hearing that may result in the expulsion of youth leader Julius Malema from South Africa’s ruling African National Congress and decide the political fate of President Jacob Zuma has sparked violent protests in central Johannesburg.
Hundreds of chanting ANC Youth League supporters gathered outside the party headquarters in Johannesburg, where the hearing is being held today, pelting police and journalists with rocks and bottles and burning T-shirts bearing Zuma’s image. Police erected barbed wire and used water cannons to disperse the protesters after they were attacked shortly after 9 a.m. local time.
Malema and Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu are accused of undermining the party by calling for the ousting of Botswana’s government and criticizing ANC leaders. The league, which helped Zuma, 69, to become head of the ANC and the nation’s president, says leaders it backs must support the nationalization of mines and banks. It has switched loyalty to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Johannesburg’s Sunday Independent newspaper reported on Aug. 7.
“It is win or lose for Zuma in this fight,” Susan Booysen, a politics professor at the Johannesburg-based University of Witwatersrand, said in an Aug. 25 phone interview. “If the Youth League leadership beats the disciplinary charges, it probably means he can start packing his bags.”
Youth League Decides
Malema told reporters yesterday the league will decide who should head the party. The ANC’s leader is also its presidential candidate in national elections, which are due in 2014.
The Youth League must accept responsibility for today’s violence, party spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in an interview from Johannesburg. The ANC won’t be “intimidated” into ending the disciplinary hearing, he said. The ANC will move the venue of the rest of the hearings to an undisclosed venue outside the city, Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary-general, said at a later press conference.
Addressing his supporters during a break in proceedings, Malema condemned the violence. “You are here because you love the African National Congress,” he said. “Please don’t be provoked by agent provocateurs.”
One policeman was injured when he was hit on the head by a rock, police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini said by telephone from Johannesburg. No arrests had been made, he said.
The disciplinary committee is chaired by Derek Hanekom, deputy minister of science and technology, and includes Mines Minister Susan Shabangu, both of whom have had public disagreements with Malema.
Quick Ruling Unlikely
Malema criticized Shabangu after she said in February 2010 that nationalization of mines won’t happen “in my lifetime,” while he rebuked Hanekom in June for not supporting the league’s call to expropriate land without compensation.
Shivambu is due to appear before the disciplinary committee tomorrow, while four other senior Youth League officials are due to appear on Sept. 1 for disrupting meetings and interfering with the functioning of the ANC.
The committee is unlikely to make a ruling in Malema’s case today, ANC spokesman Brian Sokutu said by telephone from Johannesburg.
Malema was forced to apologize and pay a fine after admitting in May last year of violating party rules by dividing the ANC and undermining Zuma’s authority. He was warned that he faced suspension from the party if he was found guilty of breaching its codes again within two years.
The latest attempt to censure Malema came after he told reporters on July 31 that Botswana’s government is a threat to regional security and the league would help opposition parties in that country to oust the “puppet” administration of President Ian Khama. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said on Aug. 3 the comments were a “serious transgression.”
“The ANC is in charge of our future and if the ANC decides your future as expulsion, you need to accept that,” Malema said yesterday. “We are ready for anything.”
Booysen said there is a 50 percent chance the ANC may oust Malema from the party. Lawrence Schlemmer, a political analyst and director of research company MarkData, expects the ANC may “soft pedal” to avoid ructions within its ranks before next year’s party elections.
“They are going to try and use this as an opportunity to bring pressure to bear on Malema to come into line,” Schlemmer said by phone from Cape Town on Aug. 23. “One of the compromises they are going to try and get out of him is not to participate in the succession race. If I was Zuma, I would take this opportunity, go for broke and say: Sorry, you’re out.”
The outcome of Malema’s disciplinary hearing may have an impact on economic policy. The Youth League says the country’s black majority still doesn’t have an adequate stake in Africa’s largest economy 17 years after the end of white-minority rule. It successfully lobbied the ANC to agree to an independent study of whether nationalization of the country’s mines is viable and to debate the findings at a policy meeting next year.
The 19-member FTSE-JSE Africa Mining Index rose 0.1 percent by the close of trade at 5:30 p.m. in Johannesburg to 32,539.75 while the rand fell to 7.0819 against the dollar by 5:49 p.m. from 7.0525 late yesterday.
Malema’s ouster won’t necessarily end calls for nationalization, said Peter Leon, the Johannesburg-based head of mining and energy at law firm Webber Wentzel.
“Malema has let the nationalization genie out the bottle and his clever combination of economic populism and racial nationalism won’t easily disappear,” Leon said in an e-mailed response to questions. “If he and his youth league colleagues are marginalized by the ANC, others will simply take their place.”