The African National Congress (ANC) yesterday ordered its controversial youth league leader Julius Malema to appear before its disciplinary panel for "bringing the party into disrepute and sowing internal divisions".
The development comes after media allegations that the self-styled champion of the poor received kick-backs from companies that were awarded lucrative infrastructure projects. He denies any wrongdoing. The influential Mr Malema, 30, who played a key role in Jacob Zuma's successful campaign to remove President Thabo Mbeki in 2007, has become a central figure in South African politics for oozing populist rhetoric on the electorate.
He has been sued for "hate speech" after chanting an anti-apartheid militants' song "Kill the Boer". He has called for the nationalisation of South Africa's mining industry and for expropriation without compensation of land "stolen by whites". It is the second time the domestic worker's son from Limpopo is to appear before an ANC disciplinary committee. He emerged unscathed from his first appearance, in May last year, mainly because the party's leadership was not unanimous over wanting him punished.
This time, it is understood that the top six figures in the party, including President Zuma, agreed to take action against him and his closest Youth League ally, Floyd Shivambu. Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said President Zuma emerged strengthened from the move: "The manner in which the charges were delivered sends a message of a very confident Jacob Zuma."
But others believe President Zuma has only reluctantly supported the move against Mr Malema, and that the youth leader's revenge could be bitter. Officially, Mr Malema is to answer for recent comments about neighbouring Botswana, which he called "a puppet of the United States". He is also accused of "sowing divisions" in the party and breaching the ANC's constitution.
It is most likely he needs to be silenced because it has become untenable for the party to support a youth leader who, according to media allegations, has grossly abused his influence. His business affairs are already under scrutiny by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and by the South African Revenue Services.
A date has been set for the disciplinary hearing – which could result in Mr Malema being removed from the presidency of the ANC Youth League – but it has not yet been disclosed.