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Sun 2 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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Rabble-rouser Malema uses youth

As a 16-year-old in a dusty township, Julius Malema incited fellow students to pelt their school with rocks.

As a 16-year-old in a dusty township three hours drive from Johannesburg, Julius Malema incited fellow students to pelt their school with rocks, forcing its closure for the day.

A decade later, Malema is displaying that same defiance as head of the African National Congress's youth league, hurling threats and invective at anyone standing in the way of ANC leader Jacob Zuma's becoming South Africa's next president.

In the process, he may help split the 96-year-old party that toppled apartheid and produced Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela.

The youth leader played a role in driving former president Thabo Mbeki from office in September and last month accused judges considering fraud charges against Zuma of bias. He was hauled before the country's Human Rights Commission after telling a rally in June that he would "kill" for Zuma.

"Malema has single-handedly created chaos in the party," said Mluleki George, who quit as deputy defence minister after Mbeki left on Sept 21 and is part of a group preparing to form a new party to challenge the ANC. "The way he just insults people, it's not right."

Two other officials, former ANC chairman Mosioua Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, then-premier of the wealthy province of Gauteng, also quit government.

Even among those who have chosen to remain within the ANC there has been disquiet. Social Development minister Zola Skweyiya, told Johannesburg's City Press newspaper that Malema had shown "shocking disrespect" and was an "embarrassment." Malema, 27, was abroad and unavailable for comment, said Moshala Mothiba, his personal assistant.

A rival party could be the first serious challenge to the ANC's dominance of post-apartheid politics. The party has ruled since 1994 and won almost 70 percent of the vote in 2004, which is why Zuma is heavily favoured to become president after elections next year. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, won 12 percent in the last election.

Zuma dismissed the breakaway faction in an interview.

"The threat is not very big," he said in New York on Oct 24. "It's more anger than content of what they are saying. We think no matter how angry they are, they're not going to get people to stay with them in an organisation."

Like Zuma, who has little formal education, Malema may be a more accessible figure to many South Africans than apartheid-era leader Mbeki.

The former president smokes a pipe and has degrees from the UK's University of Sussex and University of London.

About 56 percent of black South Africans live on a dollar a day or less, and the country suffers from 23 percent joblessness and the world's biggest AIDS epidemic. With 62 percent of all South Africans under the age of 30, fewer and fewer remember Mandela's liberation struggle in the 1950s.

The ANC has a rich history of fiery youth leaders. Peter Mokaba was known for his "Kill the boer, kill the farmer" slogan in the early 1990s, an attack on the Afrikaner minority that then ruled the country. Boer means farmer in Afrikaans.

Nor has the ANC always been unified. A group led by Robert Sobukwe left the party in the 1950s to form the Pan African Congress, now a minority party in South Africa's government.

In the late 1980s, Winnie Mandela, then Mandela's wife, and a group of her bodyguards known as the Mandela United Football Club were accused of intimidating people in Soweto and later implicated in the murder of 14-year-old activist Stompie Seipei.

Malema took seven years to finish high school, repeating two grades. He now is studying communications part-time, he said in an interview with the Cape Argus newspaper in June.

"He was very rude, and if he didn't respect you, he'd tell you anything he felt like," said 58-year-old Jeoffrey Legodi, former principal of Mohlakaneng high school in Polokwane, where Malema led the rock-throwing protest as a student.

"He would bully through intimidation. He always had the potential to be a rabble- rouser."

Other neighbours and teachers in Malema's township of Seshego disagreed, saying he was destined to be a leader.

"One day he stood up in class and asked me: ‘Madam, do you think I can really become president one day?'" said Machidi Maponya, 54, who taught Malema history. "I told him yes."

Mbeki's allies say Malema hasn't grown up since then.

"You cannot have a child, a little baby, stand there and swear at people," said former party chairman Lekota on Oct 8 as he announced his plan for the new party. Lekota, who was voted out of his position during the December ANC conference, was described in a youth league statement as a "dying horse."

Even Malema's allies say he can go too far. "We have rebuked him,'' said Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's secretary general, in an interview. "We can't wash our hands of him and say he must be crucified."

This article is courtesy of Bloomberg.

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