Mr. Malema – who had broken with the ANC by embracing Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s land-reform program, ejected a BBC reporter from a press conference, and continuing to sing a struggle-era song that urged ANC members to “shoot the boers” – will have to pay a 10,000 rand ($1,300) fine. He has also been ordered to apologize to President Jacob Zuma, andto attend anger management classes.
“The party is deeply divided, but this is not about Malema, and this is not about ideology,” says Mr. Friedman, director of the Democracy and Governance Program at the University of Johannesburg. “The people who find Malema useful, also find it useful to thump the nationalist tub to accumulate personal wealth and power. I think the fact that Malema has been forced to apologize is a setback for these people.”
At the beginning of President Jacob Zuma’s presidency in 2009, populists like Malema were among Mr. Zuma’s greatest supporters within the vast circus tent that is the ANC’s ruling coalition. Inside that tent are trade unionists from the Confederation of South African Trade Unions, communists from the South African Communist Party, civic rights liberals, free-market economists, as well as mere populists like Mr. Malema, who urges nationalizing of mines one minute and the Zimbabwe-style seizure of white-owned farms the next.
But the longer Zuma remains in office, the more Malema has used his powerful position as head of the ANC’s Youth League to criticize Zuma’s economic policies – which have tended to favour economic growth instead of the populist government job-creation favoured by the Youth League. Malema’s speeches have also tended to be highly divisive, emphasizing an us-versus-them look into past injustices of apartheid rather than a Nelson-Mandela-style inclusive solution that help South Africans (white and black) build a new nation together.
Malema’s disciplinary decision today marks a setback for Zuma’s rivals, says Friedman, “but it doens’t mean they won’t bounce back.”
“I think it’s important to remember that three months back, we were told that this guy is not touchable,” says Friedman. “Now he’s being told he has to go back to school, he has to have anger management classes, and if he gets into any more trouble, he’s going to the principal. It’s a pretty humiliating thing, both for himself, and more importantly, for the people who backed him.”