The African National Congress (ANC) this week confirmed the expulsion of Julius Malema - the party's fiery and often controversial youth league leader - as well as two of his colleagues after a lengthy disciplinary procedure. The process is being seen as solidifying South Africa President Jacob Zuma's grip on the party and likely guaranteeing him re-election as party president at this year's elective conference in December.
ANC - "king maker"
Since it was founded in in 1944 by Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Ashley Peter Mda, the African National Congress Youth League has wielded great influence within the parent body. And over the years has become known as the so-called king maker of ANC politics.
Indeed, the league played a significant role in the period leading up to the election of Jacob Zuma as he fought first for his political survival and then to unseat party leader Thabo Mbeki five years ago.
Karima Brown, South Africa editor of the Southern Africa Report, says the league’s powers derive from its supporters at ANC branch level who are also members of the parent body.
“The ANC Youth League doesn’t have the majority of voting power at conference, it is the delegates from ANC branches who hold that power. But because ANC youth league members who are over 18 are also active in the ANC they often form the most robust sections of those branches," said Brown. "So they carry a lot of influence.”
ANC leader falls out of favor with Zuma
Julius Malema, while not then president of the league, was a vocal and militant supporter of Zuma in his bid to win control the ANC and then to become president of South Africa.
Malema is known in South Africa for his provocative statements, which often outrage some sectors of the population and which have caused discomfort for the ANC and Zuma. At first the parent body was accommodating, saying such behavior was understandable in young politicians who were learning the trade, and that patience was needed.
Two years ago, in an apparent effort to encourage the then-29-year-old firebrand toward more careful remarks, Zuma even characterized him as a future leader of South Africa.
But after Zuma eventually rebuked him, Malema began to openly challenge and embarrass the president, both as ANC leader and as leader of the country. He also aligned himself with a group of backers whose goal is to unseat Zuma at this year’s elective conference in Manguang and he publicly called for Zuma to be replaced.
More at stake than leadership role
Editor Brown says that along with his membership in the ANC, which includes dismissal as president of the youth league, Malema has lost his political clout.
“Well, Malema is outside of the ANC and Malema's power derived from his position in the ANC through which he could dispose and dispense patronage and now that he is no longer in the ability to dispense patronage, is going to be severely hobbled,” she noted.
Brown says that in the run-up to its December conference, the ANC leadership also wanted to regain control of the contest for political positions to try and prevent political infighting that paralyzes the government.
She says the process has enabled Zuma to solidify his position.
“He has managed to consolidate his position, and all indications are that he is not going to relax about it, that he is in fact going to consolidate the space that has been opened to increase his chances of a second term as president of the party,” stated Brown.
Brown says this year the youth league is not the unified body it needs to be to play the role of king maker, and she says, this is largely due to Malema’s controversial and divisive tenure as president of the league.