JOHANNESBURG - Julius Malema, the polarizing leader of the African National Congress Youth League, was abruptly suspended from the party on Wednesday, effectively silencing him within South Africa‘s main political body as he fights for his political life.
Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
Julius Malema, the leader of the African National Congress Youth League, at a rally in Johannesburg in March.
The decision to silence Mr. Malema, analysts say, is less about finishing off his waning political prospects than an effort by Mr. Zuma to quell serious speculation that one or more senior party members will seek to unseat him as president of the A.N.C. and the country at the party’s leadership conference in December.
Mr. Zuma himself rose to the presidency by defeating his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, in a leadership fight in 2007 in which Mr. Malema and the Youth League played a central role.
â€œIt was beginning to look as if Zuma wasn’t in charge of his own organization,â€ said Steven Friedman, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy. â€œHe needed to show who’s boss.â€
The suspension is the latest and in some way the harshest punishment meted out against Mr. Malema, who was once one of Mr. Zuma’s most ardent supporters but has become a harsh critic.
Mr. Malema was convicted at the end of February in an internal disciplinary trial ofsowing division within the party, and was sentenced to expulsion. The A.N.C., which prizes its reputation for fairness, allowed Mr. Malema to keep his membership while he appealed the expulsion, a process that will continue despite the latest decision. In the meantime, he had been using A.N.C. events and the support of some top party leaders to press his case with the rank and file, casting himself as the victim of a stultified elite wary of his radical ideas to help the poor. With his suspension, he has lost access to that platform.
He also faces multiple investigations into his personal finances: he has become a wealthy man while leading the Youth League, and has been frequently accused of corruption.
Mr. Malema is no stranger to outrageous remarks. He revived the anti-apartheid struggle song â€œShoot the Boer,â€ a term for white farmers, leading him to be convicted of using hate speech. He called a BBC reporter a â€œbloody agent.â€ Back when he was close to Mr. Zuma, he declared himself ready to die for the man.
But on Friday, Mr. Malema apparently went too far when he attacked Mr. Zuma at a Youth League event to celebrate the A.N.C.’s centennial.
â€œIt is under President Zuma we have seen a critical voice being suppressed,â€ Mr. Malema told a cheering crowd at the University of the Witwatersrand. â€œWe have seen under President Zuma democracy being replaced with dictatorship.â€
Also on stage was Mathews Phosa, the party treasurer and one of six members of the A.N.C.’s national executive committee. Mr. Phosa has been a supporter of Mr. Malema and a critic of Mr. Zuma. Mr. Malema has also courted Kgalema Motlanthe, a former president and now Mr. Zuma’s deputy, who appeared at another Youth League event where Mr. Zuma was harshly criticized.
But both potential rivals appeared at Mr. Zuma’s side at a news conference on Tuesday, which was held by Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary general, in an effort to project a united front. The fact that members of the executive committee who seemed to be at odds with the president could be compelled to show up demonstrated that Mr. Zuma, despite deep divisions within the party, is likely to be re-elected, said Karema Brown, a veteran political analyst.
â€œIt was an important show of force,â€ Ms. Brown said. â€œAnd of course it wasn’t a show of unity. It was a real demonstration of power. If he didn’t have that power, he wouldn’t have been able to get them to sit there.â€
The A.N.C., like any big political party, has always struggled to keep its diverse membership and ambitious leadership under one big tent, though not always successfully. The most acrimonious and public infighting was that which led to the ouster of Mr. Mbeki, Nelson Mandela’s chosen successor, as party president in 2007. He was soon pushed out as president of the country as well, temporarily replaced by his deputy, Mr. Motlanthe, and eventually by the man he had previously fired as his deputy, Mr. Zuma.
Every attempt to undercut the party’s power by splitting it has ended in failure. The most recent effort, the Congress of the People, founded by disgruntled supporters of Mr. Mbeki, has struggled to attract votes and has been riven by rivalries.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 4, 2012
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of the African National Congress treasurer, who is also a member of its national executive committee. He is Mathews Phosa.
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