Julius Malema, delivers a speech in Soweto, May 15, 2011 (file photo).
Julius Malema, delivers a speech in Soweto, May 15, 2011 (file photo).

The African National Congress (ANC) has expelled Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the party?s youth league, for sowing divisions within the party and putting the party's standing with South African citizens at risk.  Malema may appeal the decision but must do so within two weeks.

Malema?s expulsion from the party applies also to his membership in the ANC Youth League, and in effect ousts him as leader of the league.  However, it is widely expected that Malema will use all the avenues available to him to overturn the decision - starting with the party?s disciplinary appeals committee.

If the committee rejects his appeal, or reduces the sanction to suspension, he can still appeal to the party?s national executive committee.  If that fails, he can take his case to the national elective conference in December - something which, in the ANC?s 100-year history, has never happened.

Controversial figure

Since his election as leader of the league, Malema has often been at the center of controversy, and two years ago was given a suspended sentence by the ANC.  Since then, he has openly challenged and embarrassed President Jacob Zuma, both as ANC leader and as president of the country.

Among other incidents, Malema insulted and expelled a British reporter at a news conference.  He went to Zimbabwe where, in a public appearance with President Robert Mugabe, he lauded Mugabe?s controversial and often violent land reform program.  And, he announced plans for the league to interfere in the politics of Botswana - declaring the elected government a puppet.

"We are going to facilitate the consolidation of opposition parties in Botswana.  Because as things stand in Botswana, that puppet government, is going to undermine the African agenda," he said.

Positive impact expected

Eusebius Mckaiser, associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand?s Center for Ethics, tells VOA the impact of the expulsion on the ANC is likely to be positive.

"There is no negative impact that [will] be felt within the ANC internally, nor on the ANC?s brand within society in South Africa or abroad as a result of the expulsion of Julius Malema.  If anything there will be a positive impact because one of the messages that comes out of this disciplinary is that no member of the ANC is above the constitution of the ANC," said Mckaiser.

Malema has called for the nationalization of South Africa's mines, and the takeover of white-owned land without compensation.  Nationalization as a policy was abandoned by the ANC in the 1990s, and the constitution prohibits expropriation of privately-owned land without compensation.

Social appeal

Even so, these calls resonated with the millions of young South Africans who are unemployed and also with organized labor which has long had nationalization as part of its agenda.

Mckaiser says Malema succeeded in getting both issues onto the agenda of the ANC?s policy conference this July because of widespread poverty and joblessness the government has been unable to solve.

"The underlying conditions, material conditions in society, haven?t been adequately addressed as yet and unless and until that happens, getting rid of Julius Malema is not tantamount to dealing with discontent that may be simmering beneath,? said Mckaiser.

Mckaiser notes that many of Malema?s actions have been directed at preventing Mr. Zuma from winning a second term as president of the ANC, and by default of the country.  But he, and many other observers, say Zuma has now strengthened his control of the party.