Supporters of Julius Malema, the leader of the African National Congress Youth League, protested violently in downtown Johannesburg Tuesday, damaging property, attacking police and journalists, and injuring at least one person. The protests began as an ANC disciplinary process involving Malema got underway.
Violence erupted when police attempted to keep protesters behind a barrier a street block away from the ANC headquarters, known as Luthuli House. Protesters, some of them school children in uniform, threw stones, bricks and bottles and breached the police barrier. Some burned ANC T-shirts and posters of President Jacob Zuma.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told the eNews Channel that those responsible were enemies of the party. “The burning of the ANC flag and the question of burning the face [poster] of the president of the ANC [Jacob Zuma], obviously when you do that you are saying to the world, 'I am not a member of the ANC, I’m the enemy of the ANC,'” he said.
Mantashe also made it plain that the youth league would have to accept responsibility for the actions of the protesters. “But if you invited your friends to be outside Luthuli House and hooligans and criminals join, you take responsibility of all [of] that crowd," he explained. "Because that crowd is your crowd, voetstoots [just as it is].”
Protesters were determined to go into Luthuli House where the second disciplinary hearing in less than a year against Malema was underway. The charges against Malema include bringing the ANC into disrepute by calling for a regime change in neighboring Botswana.
Malema is known for his fiery and often controversial rhetoric for which he, the youth league, and the ANC often have to apologize. He has forced the ANC to put nationalization of land and mines back onto the ANC policy discussions agenda - something the party backed away from in the early 1990’s.
The once supportive relationship between Malema and Zuma has deteriorated over the past two years, as Malema has ever more frequently challenged the president and the ANC over their policies.
During an afternoon recess Tuesday, Malema came out to address the protesters, calling on them to respect the ANC and its processes and focus on what he called the revolution on the enemy. When he said they know who the enemy is, they chanted "Zuma, Zuma, Zuma."
The outcome of the disciplinary action is unlikely to be known before next week.