South African ruling party expels Malema, but what's next?

Julius Malema, outspoken leader of the ANC Youth League, was expelled Wednesday for creating division within party. But ANC still faces challenge of appealing to youths. 

Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
ANC Youth League President Julius Malema greets striking miners after addressing them outside the Impala platinum mine in Rustenburg, on Tuesday. The outspoken leader of the ANC Youth League, was expelled Wednesday for creating division within party.

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, has sent its outspoken youth leader packing.

Julius Malema, who has dominated headlines since becoming head of the ANC’s Youth League in late 2007, was formally expelled from the ANC on Wednesday night for sowing divisions within the party and for advocating the overthrow of the government of Botswana. Two other senior ANCYL leaders, spokesman Floyd Shivambu and secretary general Sindiso Mangaqa, were suspended from party membership for three years.

Derek Hanekom, chairman of the ANC’s National Disciplinary Committee, said the behavior of Mr. Malema and company was "totally unacceptable."

 "Having weighed and considered all factors, the NDC found Comrade Julius Malema guilty and is expelled from the ANC,” Mr. Hankeom told reporters Wednesday night. Malema will be required to vacate his position as president of the youth league, he added, but Malema has the right to appeal the decision within 14 days.

Malema’s expulsion marks a turning point of sorts for the African National Congress, which has struggled for years to balance its competing missions of maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance and racial harmony on one hand, and seeking economic empowerment and justice for South Africa’s historically deprived black majority. South Africa’s official unemployment rate is 25 percent, but as many as half of all South Africans under the age of 30 are jobless. Even if Malema does depart from the political scene, this young, underemployed majority will still smolder with frustration over the slow pace of progress in the townships where they live, and they will find another leader to give voice to those frustrations. If the ANC doesn’t manage those frustrations, it will have another Malema to deal with.

“The gap between the ANC Youth League and actual South African youths is huge, and Malema doesn’t represent young unemployed black people in any case,” says Steven Friedman, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg. “I keep hearing people say, ‘Well, surely young people must be angry about their situation,’ and I say, ‘They’ve been doing something for years.’ They are the ones at the front lines of any township protest or political rally.”

“But the problem here is that if this anger is not organized, it can’t be translated into policy,” Mr. Friedman. “I’m very pessimistic that the ANC Youth League can do that, even with a change of leadership. They are too out of touch.”

For the time being, reaction to Malema’s expulsion has been muted. ANC Youth League spokesman Mr. Shivambu told reporters that the Youth League would study the decision before making an announcement next Monday about whether he, Malema, and Mr. Mangaqa plan to appeal.

In Polokwane, Malema’s hometown, there were reports of gunfire outside of Malema’s house, between Malema supporters and members of rival ANCYL factions.

Outside his home, Malema told reporters he had accepted the National Disciplinary Committee judgment, but warned that he is not finished.

"It is still early to celebrate,” Malema said of his expulsion, “because the road ahead of us is going to be very long and needs men and women who are very strong. We must accept that this is the decision, but that is not the end of the road."

Malema is not without allies in this fight. He is thought to have strong supporters within the senior ANC leadership whose aims are at odds with those of South African President Jacob Zuma, who is also president of the ANC. Malema initially was among Zuma’s staunchest supporters in his rise to power in early 2008, but the two have fallen out over issues of personality and policy. Malema has recently advocated for the unpaid confiscation of white farms and the nationalization of mines, positions that are at odds with Zuma’s spirit of compromise, but popular for those who believe white South Africans continue to control the country’s wealth and exclude black citizens from economic empowerment.

Among Malema’s most visible supporters is former President Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Ms. Madikizela-Mandela attended Malema’s disciplinary hearings in February, and Malema visited her home soon after the disciplinary committee’s preliminary findings were announced last month.

ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, said the ANC welcomed and respected the findings of the National Disciplinary Committee.
 "We call on our members and those of our leagues to respect this decision," said Mr. Mthembu. 

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