David Smith, Guardian (London), April 20, 2010
A firebrand youth leader in South Africa who racially abused a BBC journalist and praised Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe faces disciplinary action, it was confirmed today.
Sanctions against Julius Malema, president of the youth wing of the governing African National Congress, will now be considered by the party’s disciplinary committee.
The ANC has “preferred charges”, it said in a statement, but deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise added that these had not yet been formulated and refused to give a timetable.
“It is an internal matter,” Modise said. “To pronounce on the charges would be very premature. The allegations are put, there is a consideration made. There is a submission on the table and that is it.”
Malema branded BBC journalist Jonah Fisher a “bastard” and “bloody agent”, accusing him of a “white tendency”, at a recent press conference. He gave the youth league’s backing to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and poured scorn on its political rivals, despite South Africa’s official position of neutrality on Zimbabwe.
Malema’s call for the nationalisation of mines has threatened to spook investors. He also continued to sing a protest song containing the words “shoot the Boer” despite a court ban.
President Jacob Zuma took the unusual step of publicly rebuking Malema for his behaviour. Political commentators and newspapers in South Africa have suggested that, if Zuma now backs down and fails to discipline his protege, it will be a capitulation that will destroy his credibility.
But Modise insisted: “Will this whole thing around the youth league and its president make Jacob Zuma look like a weak president? That’s something we don’t understand. We believe in a collective leadership.
“We don’t believe that when the youth league goes out there and puts its voice among the many voices of South Africa–sometimes very shrill, sometimes in a manner we don’t even agree with–that you must say, ‘Shut up because you put that matter out there, you’ll make the president weak.'”
She added: “No, Zuma was not made by the ANC youth league. Zuma has been a leader a very long time in the ANC. . . . We are irritated by behaviour which is unbecoming, we will not excuse it, we will act against, but no, whatever it is Malema does or does not do cannot either make Zuma a strong president or weak president. I reject that.”
Today’s press conference at Luthuli House followed an official meeting during which the youth league, an autonomous body within the ANC, made a submission to the party’s top six officials.
Modise apologised to BBC journalists present for the way Malema treated their colleague, and said Malema had also made clear he was sorry. The league admitted that Malema’s outburst had put “our parents in a tremendous rocky situation” and that it was remorseful.
Modise added that the youth league had been “called to order” on the issue of Zimbabwe, which Zuma felt particularly strongly about. She promised South Africa would not copy Mugabe’s aggressive land reforms.
“The ANC would not go the Zimbabwe way of land grabs,” she said. “We are very clear on that: we will not do it. However, it cannot be that we will continue not to address the land needs of other racial groups in South Africa. We must find a way to address it unless we want another Zimbabwe to impose itself on South Africa.”
She added that the leadership of the ANC also took issue with Malema saying that former president Thabo Mbeki was better than Zuma. The youth league had explained itself to the leadership on that matter and “clarified” the context of that statement.
But Malema’s next foreign trip might do little to smooth feathers: tomorrow he is to lead a youth delegation to Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela.