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Violence at Malema hearing shows divide within South Africa's ANC

Angry supporters of ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema battled police outside the ANC headquarters in the strongest indication that the ANC's youth wing is rapidly falling out of control.

By Savious KwinikaCorrespondent / August 30, 2011

African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) supporters take to the streets of downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 30, after an all night vigil in support of leader Julius Malema who is facing a disciplinary hearing by senior ANC leaders for bringing the movement into disrepute.

Adrian de Kock/The Star/AP

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Johannesburg, South Africa

As South Africa's governing African National Congress convened a hearing on allegations of indiscipline against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, police outside were battling with rowdy and violent protesters demanding Malema be "left alone."

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The firebrand Mr. Malema is facing charges of bringing the party into disrepute through a statement advocating for regime change in Botswana, among other allegations. In a previous disciplinary hearing in May 2010, the ANC ordered Malema to take anger-management classes for remarks deemed by the ANC to be offensive.

Outside of Luthuli House, the ANC's headquarters in downtown Johannesburg, Malema's angry and youthful supporters burned South African flags as well as posters of Jacob Zuma, the country's president and leader of the ANC, and T-shirts bearing Mr. Zuma's image.

The violent protest has spawned a war of words between the ANC and members of the Youth League, an organization within the ANC founded by Nelson Mandela in 1944 as a way to push for more radical responses to South Africa's racist regime. It is unclear, however, just how much the ANC Youth League's current leadership speaks for young ANC members or for young South Africans in general. But the violence outside Luthuli House is a sign that the Youth League may be falling outside of the ANC's control.

ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu attempted to distance ANCYL activists from the violent protests outside Luthuli House, saying such perpetrators were "chancers," or opportunists.

"The ANCYL strongly condemns and dissociates itself from the burning of ANC T-Shirts with the face of President Zuma," Mr. Shivambu said in a statement. "We reiterate our statement and call on those who are here to support the leadership to exercise maximum discipline and do so in a peaceful manner, regard, and respect to the ANC process."

Reaffirming the ANCYL's respect for the ANC's organizational discipline, Mr. Shivambu added, "The ANCYL will never be associated with unruly, disruptive elements and agents provocateurs who want to portray genuine support and solidarity gathering in a bad light; we are calling for restraint from supporters and the security service."

But ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu called the burning of President Zuma's T-shirts, party flags, and posters "totally unacceptable," "wanton acts of criminality," and "hooliganism." The scenes outside the ANC headquarters, he added, were perpetrated by an unruly mob of people claiming to be “ANC Youth League members.”

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