JOHANNESBURG (AP) — In a strong slap at a young but powerful politician, South Africa’s governing African National Congress suspended its youth leader for five years on Thursday for sowing intolerance and disunity by criticizing President Jacob Zuma and his policies.
Thursday’s action, announced live on national television, followed months during which the ANC had seemed unwilling to crack down on Julius Malema, who had helped Zuma win the presidency several years ago, oust one of his predecessors and was seen as a kingmaker in South Africa.
The ANC also said the 30-year-old Malema would no longer serve as the youth league president.
The decision leaves Malema, who has been active in the ANC since he was in primary school, without a platform and without guarantee he’ll be able to build a power base outside the party. He has 14 days to appeal the rulings made by an internal ANC disciplinary panel.
Only a few of his supporters were outside ANC headquarters Thursday, and they showed little reaction to the ruling, contrasting with crowds who rioted when the disciplinary hearings against him began in August. Demonstrators had burned ANC flags and T-shirts bearing Zuma’s image.
Zuma’s ability to seek a second term could depend on Malema’s support. Malema helped bring Zuma to power by voting to make him ANC president in place of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, thus ousting Mbeki from the presidency.
The ANC president automatically is the party’s candidate to lead the country and is all but guaranteed the top job since opposition parties offer little competition.
The ANC said that Malema’s membership was frozen because of his questioning of whether Zuma was providing the kind of pan-African leadership that Mbeki had provided. It also had to do with Malema’s criticisms of neighboring Botswana — the Youth League has called Botswana’s government imperialist, while the ANC sees them as an ally.
"The acts of misconduct for which the respondent has been found guilty are very serious, and have damaged the integrity of the ANC and South Africa’s international reputation," said Derek Hanekom, chairman of the party’s national disciplinary committee.
Earlier Thursday, Malema received a suspended punishment on other charges.
It was unclear when Malema would publicly respond. He did not attend the news conference at which the ruling against him was announced. His Youth League had said a day earlier he would be taking a university exam on Thursday.