Malema supporters clash with S.Africa police

JOHANNESBURG,  (Reuters) – South African police used  stun grenades and water cannon yesterday to disperse thousands  of supporters of outspoken ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema  who was facing a party disciplinary hearing that could derail  his political career.

Julius Malema

Scores of Malema’s supporters hurled rocks and beer bottles  at police and burned African National Congress flags and posters  of President Jacob Zuma outside the ruling party’s headquarters  in central Johannesburg.

The hearing is a high-stakes gamble for both Zuma and  Malema. The firebrand youth leader, seen as a potential future  leader, faces possible suspension from the party. But if he is  exonerated, Zuma could be fighting for political survival.

Malema, who has no direct policy-making power but is one of  the ANC’s most popular politicians, has won admiration among  millions of poor South Africans and alarmed investors with his  calls to nationalise the mines and seize white-owned farmland.

The turmoil, which shuttered businesses and left downtown  Johannesburg streets littered with broken glass and rocks,  prompted the ANC to move the week-long hearings of Malema, 30,  and five other top youth league officials to a secret location  outside the city.

“We are not intimidated. If this is an attempt to  intimidate, it is not working,” ANC Secretary-General Gwede  Mantashe said, blaming the Youth League for the violence.  “Whoever brought this crowd here will have to take  responsibility.”

The violence, in which at least one policeman and several  journalists were wounded, was the worst near the headquarters of  South Africa’s ruling party since apartheid ended in 1994,  Mantashe said.

He later said the hearings would be moved so as not to  disrupt the lives of people working in the city.

Malema, wearing a black T-shirt and beret, told supporters  during a break in his hearing that they should refrain from  violence, respect the ANC leadership and not burn party flags.  “We must exercise restraint,” Malema said.

He told supporters journalists should not be harmed as they  were not the enemy. “You must know who is the enemy,” Malema  said before he was drowned out by supporters shouting: “Zuma is  the enemy”.

If found guilty of sowing discord in party ranks — in  Malema’s second disciplinary hearing in about a year — he could  be suspended from the party for several years.

Expulsion would silence his calls for nationalisation of the  mining sector, to the relief of investors, but would anger his  legions of supporters.

Zuma hopes to be re-elected as ANC leader at a party meeting  in late 2012 – at which nationalisation of the mines will be  examined – and sidelining Malema could help him win another term  by neutralising rivals who have courted Malema’s support.

Police contained the several thousand protesters, including  children in school uniforms, behind razor wire barricades near  the ANC building. They dispersed after Malema’s speech.

 “KILL FOR MALEMA”

At least one police officer was hit by a brick, a police  spokesman said, and the domestic eNEWS channel said one of its  television crews was attacked. Two photographers were also  attacked with rocks, the SAPA news agency reported.

The protesters earlier tried to break through the police  barricades towards the ANC building.

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