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South Africa’s ANC Disbands Internal Opponents in ‘Purge’

South African President Jacob Zuma
A stronger hand for South African President Jacob Zuma may allow him to unite the party ahead of elections next year in Africa’s biggest economy. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress removed leaders from its youth wing and the Limpopo province as President Jacob Zuma moved against opponents a year ahead of elections, according to the Centre for Politics and Research.

The party will put an interim committee in charge of the Youth League, which had showed “continued ill-disciplined behavior,” Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg today. Limpopo’s leadership “has been dissolved for displaying totally un-ANC behavior and institutionalized factional conduct,” Mantashe said.

ANC members in Limpopo and the Youth League were Zuma’s most-vocal critics when he stood for a second term as party leader in December. A stronger hand for Zuma may allow him to unite the party ahead of elections next year in Africa’s biggest economy.

“This is a purge,” Prince Mashele, executive director at the Johannesburg-based Centre for Politics and Research, said in an interview. The ANC executive committee “will do anything in its power to defend Zuma and to project a united face,” he said.

Limpopo is the home province of Julius Malema, the former ANC Youth League leader expelled from the ruling party in February last year. Malema campaigned for the nationalization of the nation’s mines and for Zuma to be replaced.

‘Not Revenge’

The ANC leadership in Limpopo removed mayors in the country’s northern province for “political” reasons, Mantashe said. Cassel Mathale, who leads the party in the region, won’t automatically be removed as head of the provincial government, he said.

Limpopo will be headed by an interim leadership committee, which has nine months to arrange a new party vote, said Mantashe. The decision follows demands made by delegates at the ANC’s national conference in December, he said.

“This is not revenge,” Mantashe said of the decisions taken over the weekend by the 80-member National Executive Committee, the party’s main decision-making body. “You can’t be flat-footed and do nothing when things are going wrong because you may fear it will be perceived as a purge.”

The National Treasury took over some government departments in Limpopo in January last year because of mismanagement and over-spending. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said at the time that the province was “bankrupt.”

Zuma won the backing of 75 percent of the delegates at December’s conference, beating Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Candidates he favored were elected to the other top five party posts as well as to most of the positions on the NEC.

Coordinate Voting

Zuma opponents, including Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and former ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa, lost positions on the executive committee after some party leaders handed out printed lists so that delegates could coordinate voting. Motlanthe declined to stand for the NEC.

The ANC-allied Congress of South African Trade Unions appointed a commission to hear internal disputes last week, after newspapers including Johannesburg-based Business Day reported the group was probing its General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi for possible corruption in relation to property deals.

Vavi has been critical of Zuma and in October called for the president to clarify whether the government was paying for renovations to his rural home in KwaZulu-Natal province.

“The anti-Zuma faction in the ANC is very weak at the moment,” Mashele said. “In order for them to be vocal they would need serious champions in the ANC and they’re not there at the moment.”

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