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By Weekend Argus Reporters
Julius Malema seems to have blown it. Yesterday the ANC Youth League leader had another tantrum, this time in Limpopo, where he clouted a party rival with a chair and threw journalists out of a chaotic youth league conference.
His latest outburst comes after his now-infamous tirade against BBC reporter Jonah Fisher in Joburg on Thursday, which finally spurred President Jacob Zuma into action.
Yesterday at a press conference in Durban, Zuma described Malema's behaviour as "unacceptable", "totally out of order", "against ANC culture", and warranting "consequences".
Zuma's statement made no direct reference to Malema, but was an obvious response to the youth league leader's actions.
Answering questions from journalists later, Zuma mentioned Malema by name.
Having fallen foul of the president, Malema was no longer popular among some circles yesterday in Makhado in Limpopo, where the youth league was holding its provincial conference. Open fighting broke out and at one stage police had to use a water cannon to calm things down.
According to rivals, Malema threw youth league Limpopo chairman Lehlohonolo Masoga out of the conference and dissolved the provincial executive committee. Masoga could not be reached for comment later.
But Malema said the provincial executive committee had dissolved itself and that Masoga and his group had "gone to ground" and were not ejected.
And he confirmed that his national leadership had taken over the conference.
During the conference one of the delegates from the rival group went up to Malema and taunted him, prompting the youth league leader - who had just arrived at the registration hall - to pick up a chair and hit him. This is when the fighting broke out. As chaos erupted in the hall, Malema gave orders to throw out the media.
Referring to the incident later, Malema said he had merely chased the delegate because he wanted to reprimand him for dancing on top of a table.
At the conference, members of a group opposed to Malema's choice of provincial chairperson chanted "Malema, we don't want your agenda" and "No to tenders committee" - an implication that the youth leader has amassed wealth through government tenders.
After the furore Malema said: "People were creating anarchy when we were trying to speak. They brought hooligans and some of them ran away with credentials. Police arrested a person who ran away with credentials. (The provincial executive committee) dissolved itself, not me."
Earlier another anti-Malema group cheered youth league deputy president Andile Lungisa as he arrived, saying he was the "incoming president".
Even though Malema is not personally contesting a place in the provincial executive, his interest is to ensure that his allies win the province. The outcome of the conference will determine whether Malema's grip on power in the league is slipping or not.
Masoga is up against Frans Moswane - who is in the Malema camp - for the position of chairman.
Opposing factions pelted each other with stones on Friday night because of a row over registration after anti-Malema delegates complained that their branches were being disqualified. They were later reinstated.
Meanwhile, in Durban a visibly irritated Zuma said he had spoken to Malema after he insulted BBC reporter Fisher and threw him out of the press conference on Thursday.
Zuma said ANC leaders had to "think before they speak" because their utterances had "wider implications" for the country.
The president refused to be drawn on how Malema would be dealt with, saying only that he would be subject to "internal processes".
He said: "Matters relating to the conduct and statements of the ANC Youth League which are totally alien to the culture of the ANC have made it necessary for us to emphasise a few fundamental principles today."
A free and independent media was a cornerstone of democracy and journalists had to be engaged with dignity.
"The manner in which a BBC journalist was treated at an ANC Youth League press conference is regrettable and unacceptable, regardless of any alleged provocation on his part."
Referring to Malema's comments against Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change and in support of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, Zuma said it was imperative to respect both parties and to remain impartial in reconciliation efforts there.
"We cannot and will not side with any one of the parties to the exclusion of others."
Zuma called for social cohesion in South Africa, in spite of fears of heightened racial tensions. "South Africans remain united in their support for the constitution, the values it enshrines and the democratic institutions it has established... this requires responsible leadership. The ANC Youth League is not an independent body.
"It exists within the umbrella policy and discipline of the ANC."
Zuma was last week roasted by opposition parties, church and business leaders for his tardiness in dealing decisively with Malema.