South Africa: Malema censured. Has he gone too far this time?

ANC’s outspoken youth leader to appear before disciplinary committee.

Controversial youth leader Julius Malema has been told he must face an African National Congress (ANC) disciplinary committee for “bringing the party into disrepute and sowing internal divisions”. The latest development in a long line of controversies surrounding Malema comes  after accusations that he had been receiving payments from companies which had gone on to receive commissions for highly lucrative infrastructure projects. Mr Malema denies the charges.

Officially, Mr Malema is to answer for recent comments about neighbouring Botswana, which he called “a puppet of the United States”.  He is also accused of “sowing divisions” in the party and breaching the ANC’s constitution. It is more likely that he needs to be silenced because it has become untenable for the party to support a youth leader who, according to media allegations, has grossly abused his influence. His business affairs are already under scrutiny by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and by the South African Revenue Services.

Political parties have welcomed the ANC’s action against Malema, saying it was long overdue. The parliamentary opposition party, The United Democratic Movement (UDM), said Malema had been “acting like a bull in a china shop for far too long” and that his utterances had done “incalculable” damage to the economy.

Malema rose to prominence during Jacob Zuma’s successful election campaign during 2007. With his powerful speeches and provocative rhetoric he was able to tap into populist opinion and provided Zuma with a crucial weapon in his war of words with presidential opponent Thabo Mbeki. Malema has gone on to become a highly influential figure in the ANC and South African politics, but his rise to power has not  been without controversy. At a previous disciplinary hearing in 2010 Malema was found guilty of undermining President Zuma, and entered into a plea-bargain with the ANC disciplinary committee, agreeing to pay South African Rand 10,000 to a youth project of his choice; spend 20 days  in the ANC’s political school in 2011; and attend anger management and communication classes.

The Guardian has revealed that these latest charges took Malema by surprise, and that senior ANC figures now plan to push for his expulsion within two weeks. At the previous hearing Malema had been told that should he be found guilty of provoking serious divisions or a break-down of unity in the ANC within the next two years, his membership of the ANC would be suspended.

A date has been set for the disciplinary hearing – which could result in Mr Malema being removed from the presidency of the ANC Youth League – but it has not yet been disclosed.