REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Julius Malema, the outspoken and charismatic leader of the African National Congress' youth wing, was suspended from the party for five years for disgracing the organization and sowing disunity with his criticism of South African President Jacob Zuma.
Malema, whom Zuma once said was future presidential material, was seen as the front man for a group plotting to oust the president as the ruling party's leader at a conference next year.
The unexpectedly tough penalty, which increases Zuma's chances of getting a second term as the nation's president, came after a debilitating power struggle that disrupted the party for months. But some analysts expect the conflict to drag on as Zuma's opponents seek to use Malema's punishment to whip up a backlash.
Malema was ordered to step down as president of the ANC Youth League for the term of his suspension. The move breaks the 30-year-old's official ties to his power base and assures that he will be too old to return to the post when his suspension ends.
Malema's value to the ANC was in his ability to mobilize the youth vote and bring alienated jobless young people into the fold. But his repeated calls for nationalizing of mines and banks unnerved investors and his frequent attacks on Zuma and government ministers won him many enemies.
One of the charges related to his call for regime change in Botswana, South Africa's democratic neighbor, and another related to publicly criticizing Zuma. A third charge related to Malema and a group of other youth league leaders storming into a meeting at ANC headquarters chaired by Zuma. For the latter, he received a suspended penalty.
He was cleared of a charge of inciting racial discord.
It's not the first time Malema has been disciplined by the ANC. Last year he was charged with bringing the party into disrepute, but punishment was suspended on condition that he not repeat the offense and attend anger management classes.
He has also been twice found guilty of hate speech in South African courts -- once for insisting a woman who accused Zuma of rape had a "nice time" (Zuma was acquitted) and once for singing "Shoot the Boer," a revolutionary era song referring to white farmers that has been ruled as hate speech.
Malema's right-hand man. Floyd Shivambu, was suspended for three years for bringing the party into disrepute, including using a vulgar epithet to describe a white female journalist.
Malema and Shivambu have 14 days to appeal.
The value of the South Africa rand went up after news Malema had been suspended.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema speaks to his supporters in Polokwane on Thursday. Credit: Reuters