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South African firebrand Julius Malema expelled from ruling party

February 29, 2012 |  1:19 pm

Malema
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The African National Congress expelled Julius Malema, the president of its youth wing, on Wednesday for sowing divisions and bringing disrepute to the South African ruling party.

The controversial Malema clashed with the leadership of the ANC and lost. His problems are not over: Multiple investigations into his alleged financial misdeeds are underway.

Wednesday's decision is subject to appeal but, if upheld, would leave Malema little alternative but to start his own party. Other populist figures who have left in the party in the past have floundered in the face of the ANC’s political dominance.

Underscoring party tensions over the issue, the decision was announced hours later than expected. It was supposed to be made public late in the afternoon but was delayed until just before 10 p.m. Malema has two weeks to appeal, but the tide of support in the ANC appears to be turned against the populist firebrand.

Last year, Malema was suspended for five years for lack of discipline and bringing the party into disrepute after vowing to send a youth league team to engineer a change of government in Botswana, South Africa’s prosperous and democratic northern neighbor.

Malema appealed the suspension, but it was upheld by the disciplinary committee in early February.

His refusal to tone down his rhetoric in the weeks leading to Wednesday’s hearing backfired and prosecutors successfully argued for expulsion.

In his short career, Malema attracted more headlines than anyone else in South African politics.  He was viewed as a charismatic, provocative orator who used humor like a knife to slash his opponents.

His abrasive populism and pointed jibes at white South Africans made for volatile politics. He infuriated most whites but struck a chord with the alienated sea of unemployed black youth, many of whom can expect to never get a job.

He also took on the ANC’s sacred cows, attacking leaders who he said had failed South Africa, taunting government ministers and calling for nationalization of mines and banks -– to the alarm of government ministers and foreign investors alike.

He embarrassed the ANC in 2010 when he called a BBC journalist a spy and a “bloody agent.”

That same year, he was given a suspended sentence by the ANC disciplinary committee over his support for Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, seen as interference in South Africa’s foreign policy.

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-- Robyn Dixon  

Photo: Thousands of striking mine workers listen to African National Congress youth leader Julius Malema, center, speak in Rustenburg, South Africa, on Tuesday.  Credit: Alon Skuy / European Pressphoto Agency

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