S.Africa's Malema seen losing ANC appeal

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The appeal that will decide the future of South African firebrand Julius Malema starts next week, with analysts saying it will likely uphold a five-year suspension from the ruling party that would send the youth leader into the political wilderness.

Malema, who rose to prominence with calls to nationalise mines and seize white-owned farm land, is fighting for his political life after an African National Congress (ANC) disciplinary committee in November found him guilty of bringing the party into disrepute and expelled him for five years.

The appeal will begin on January 23, a senior ANC official said on Monday. Malema, 30, is also facing a criminal probe that is looking into his finances. He has been able to stay in the party pending the appeal.

If the panel made up of senior ANC officials upholds the previous sentence, Malema, 30, would be stripped of his position as president of the ANC Youth League and ostracised by the party the dominates politics in Africa’s largest economy.

Analysts expect the appeal panel to uphold the previous decision and Malema has said he sees himself as “finished politically”.

The panel’s decision is expected in the next few weeks.

PRESIDENTIAL BATTLE

Malema’s fate has been increasingly tied to President Jacob Zuma, whose path to re-election as leader of the ANC at the end of this year could be blocked if the party rebel, an ANC power-broker, is still in the movement.

Malema has become one of the most prominent critics of Zuma, voicing the concerns of factions in the party frustrated with what they see as ineffectual leadership.

Major ratings agencies are also worried about the way things have been going.

Fitch, last Friday, and Moody’s a few months ago downgraded the outlook for South Africa, saying Zuma’s government has not done enough to tackle structural problems including chronic unemployment, growing state debt and a broken education system.

“Political risk featured heavily in the decisions,” said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered.

“Ratings agencies appear to be looking at the longer term weak growth trajectory in South Africa, the economic progress that isn’t being made, especially with job creation, and assuming on that basis perhaps more political risk than might be currently justified,” Khan said.

If Zuma wins re-election as head of the ANC, he is almost certain to be its nominee for the 2014 presidential election. Given the ANC’s stranglehold on politics, its candidate is virtually guaranteed to win the race.

The ANC disciplinary panel said in its decision Malema had fostered divisions in the party that has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994. The panel also said he brought the party into disrepute for calling for the overthrow of the elected government of neighbouring Botswana.

Malema’s calls for radical economic transformation have won him support from millions of poor who feel they have been left behind in the country’s economic and social advancements.

His plans to take over mines in the world’s largest platinum producer have also worried economists who said they would bankrupt the state.

Analysts see little chance of Malema trying to form his own political party after the failure of the opposition COPE party formed amid much fanfare about four years ago by defecting high-profile ANC members. COPE has since become a minor party struggling to survive.