JOHANNESBURG – Embattled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema said on Wednesday he is a victim of a witch hunt by some top members of South Africa's ruling party who want him out to silence his calls to nationalise mines and seize white-owned farm land.
Malema, whose plans for radical transformation of Africa's biggest economy made him one of the country's most prominent figures, is fighting for his political life after an ANC disciplinary committee last week found him guilty of bringing the party into disrepute and expelled him for five years.
He accused some ANC leaders of using the disciplinary process as a way of "trying to legitimise a decision already taken to get rid of the leadership of the ANC Youth League".
The disciplinary committee said he had violated party rules and undermined foreign policy by calling for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of neighbouring Botswana.
Analysts saw the hearing as a showdown between the youth leader and President Jacob Zuma, whose chances of re-election as leader of the African National Congress at a party meeting next year were being undermined by Malema.
Since the ANC enjoys virtual one-party rule, its leader is assured of the country's presidency.
'I MUST BE FIRED'
The deck is stacked against Malema to have the decision reversed. His possible expulsion has brought relief to many worried about a nationalisation plan could bankrupt the country and senior ANC members who said Malema was undermining investor confidence.
"Resigning is not an option," Malema told a news conference. "I must be fired."
The ANC welcomed the appeal from Malema and other Youth League officials also found guilty of breaking ANC rules but chastised them for saying the disciplinary process was unfair and there was a plot to oust them.
"Any insinuation that the charges brought against them as well as the outcomes thereof were 'political' is therefore without any substance," the ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.
The ANC has a solitary body to hear the appeal and Malema will stay in office until it reaches its decision. If the body, staffed with many senior ANC members who have been critical of Malema, upholds the verdict, the youth leader must step down.
No timetable has been set for the appeal, which could take several months.
Malema has won support from the country's poor black majority who envision him as a future leader. Critics accused him of exploiting their plight to advance his political fortunes and doing little to end poverty.
Malema said he plans to put up a fight but is ready for political exile if the appeal does not go his way.
"I will never form a political party. I was born ANC and I will die ANC."
Malema's likely expulsion should silence his calls for a takeover of mines in the world's largest platinum producer but it will not derail the ANC's intention of finding better ways to transfer more mineral wealth to the poor.
For many investors, the biggest problem in the mining sector is not Malema but regulators willing to approve sweetheart deals that benefit the politically connected at the expense of the free market.