Deposed ANC Youth Leader
When Julius Malema became President of the Youth League of South Africa’s long-time ruling Party, the African National Congress (ANC), he took over the helm of an organization with impeccable pedigree in South African politics. Indeed, the ANC Youth League was founded in 1944 by future ANC giants, such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo.
The ANC itself as we know it today came of age at the end of the 1940′s when it was taken over by the Youth League, which used civil disobedience and strikes to protest Apartheid. By the mid 1950′s a new cadre of young Black South Africans, including future president, Thabo Mbeki, would become the face of the Youth League.
So Malema had everything going for him after he took over the League with the active backing of current South African President, Jacob Zuma. Many in fact saw Malema as a future president of South Africa. However, with a series of incendiary statements, he soon set out on a course of action that ANC watchers believe have planted the seeds of a deep split within the organization.
Soon after his election, Malema raised eyebrows when, siding with Jacob Zuma in the fight against Mbeki for the leadership of the ANC, he said, “we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.” Breaking with the policy of moderation and reconciliation championed by Mandela after his release from prison, Malema stridently called for the redistribution of wealth from the economically well-of white population to poor blacks. He then caused a major diplomatic row with his call for the toppling of the government of neighboring Botswana, which he described as a “puppet regime.”
Malema’s course of conduct posed a direct challenge to the ANC top hierarchy, apparently leaving former supporters like President Zuma with no alternative but to seek his removal from office and a 5-year suspension from the ANC, after he was formally charged with sowing divisions in the venerable liberation organization that will celebrate its centenary in 2012.
Many observers believe that the removal of Malema from the Youth League leadership is symbolic of the deep fissures in the ANC, reflecting the different world views of the old guards, such as Zuma, and the young blacks, like Malema, who want a more aggressive approach to solving the problem of poverty that still plagues large segments of the black population of South Africa.
And Malema has made it clear that he and people like him intend to fight. After he was kicked out of the ANC, Malema said, “We must also fight for what we believe in. We must never apologize. The gloves are off.” No matter what happens next, the Malema affair strongly suggests that the ANC will go into its centennial year a deeply divided organization.