JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's president on Monday slammed his party's youth league, warning the African National Congress will take stern action against ill-disciplined members.
President Jacob Zuma said the African National Congress Youth League is ill-disciplined and responsible for "unacceptable" incidents that he said threaten party unity. The criticism reflects directly on firebrand youth leader Julius Malema — who has previously earned public rebukes from Zuma — though Zuma did not name Malema during his speech at a party congress in the eastern coastal city of Durban.
He said the ANC youth must stop putting forward candidates for party leadership because it's too early for that.
"Juniors must respect their seniors. Those who belong to junior structures must respect those in senior structures of the party, I am talking about ANC structures," Zuma said in a nationally televised address.
Malema did not comment to journalists after Zuma's speech. But Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a Malema ally and powerful ANC member in her own right, praised Zuma's speech.
"I think it was very honest and very self-critical of us," she told reporters. "He addressed the real issues ... We have acknowledged the weaknesses."
The youth league has defied a party ban issued in May on campaigning for leadership by proposing their own candidate for party secretary. The league wants deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Gwede Mantashe as ANC general secretary at the 2012 congress. That congress will also decide whether Zuma will get a second term as party leader, while the current Durban meeting is meant to be merely a chance to review policy.
Previously, Malema has publicly differed with ANC policy by supporting Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and calling for the country's mines to be nationalized. He also has publicly criticized many senior party leaders.
Zuma also publicly criticized Malema in April after months of pressure to rein in the younger leader. That was followed by party disciplinary procedures. Malema pleaded guilty to sowing divisions within the ANC. His punishment included attending anger management classes. He also was fined 10,000 rand (about $1,300) and asked to make a public apology.