JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s ruling ANC on Friday rejected a request from its Youth League leader Julius Malema to drop disciplinary charges against him, allowing a hearing to proceed that could derail the career of the populist firebrand.
Malema, who has galvanised the country’s poor black majority with his calls for a state takeover of mines and white-owned farms, has been accused of sowing dissent in the party and bringing it into disrepute.
The ANC this week started a disciplinary hearing against him — proceedings that are widely seen as a showdown between Malema and South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma.
The African National Congress party said Malema had tried to get the case dropped, on the grounds that he had been confused by party rules, among other arguments.
“The National Disciplinary Committee dismissed comrade Julius Malema’s application to have the charges quashed,” the ANC said in a statement. The hearing would resume on Monday, it added.
Malema, 30, seen as a potential future ANC leader, faces suspension from the party if found guilty. But if he is exonerated, Zuma could be fighting for his political survival.
Zuma faces a major ANC meeting in late 2012 when the party that dominates the country’s politics elects its leaders. He will be in a strong position for re-election if Malema is sidelined but could struggle if Malema stays in the ANC and supports Zuma’s rivals for the top job.
Malema has regularly criticised Zuma’s leadership in recent months. Analysts say he may have gone too far, and pushed the ANC to take action against him, when his Youth League embarrassed Pretoria by calling for the overthrow of the elected government of ally and neighbour Botswana.
ANC leaders have said the charges were related to last month’s comments about Botswana, Malema’s description of whites as “criminals” and other statements that they said undermined Zuma’s leadership.
The start of the hearing on Tuesday was disrupted when Malema supporters threw stones and bottles at police and journalists.
The Youth League on Friday said it was angry the disciplinary committee had released details of Malema’s application.
“The judgement on quashing of charges released by the ANC does not reflect the true essence of the arguments tabled by the leadership of the ANC Youth League,” it said in a statement.
Expulsion would silence Malema’s calls for nationalisation of the mining sector, to the relief of investors, but would anger his legions of supporters.
Five other Youth League leaders are also facing disciplinary proceedings. If all are fund guilty, it would be seen as a purge of Malema’s leaders and his influence over the league.
Economists have said nationalisation would bankrupt the state — it would cost about twice the annual national budget to buy out the mining firms listed on the Johannesburg bourse.
Editing by Marius Bosch and Andrew Heavens