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Johannesburg - South Africa's ruling ANC party on Tuesday harshly reprimanded rebellious Youth League leader Julius Malema, angrily condemning his assertion that President Jacob Zuma's government is a dictatorship.
Still smarting after Malema accused the president of trying to crush him and the party's Youth League, the African National Congress put on a show of unity holding a news conference with all its six top leaders, including Zuma.
“It is not only disingenuous but a deliberate falsehood,” Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said of Malema's comments.
The young firebrand's slurs on Zuma were “crude”, “disrespectful”, “incomprehensible” and “insulting,” he added.
On Friday, Malema, who has been formally expelled from the party pending an appeal, told an ANC-backed rally at Wits University in Johannesburg: “We have seen under President Zuma democracy being replaced with dictatorship.”
One of the party's best orators, Malema has become an increasingly vocal critic of Zuma, refusing to tone down rhetoric advocating a radical transformation of Africa's biggest economy with the take-over of mines and white-owned farmland.
He was expelled from the party for sowing division in ANC ranks but the ANC has allowed him to stay in his post and speak at its major events pending the outcome of an appeal process that has already lasted several months.
His next appeal hearing will be heard next week. Malema has said the process has been politically motivated.
If definitively expelled, Zuma would have a clear path to win a second term as ANC leader in party elections later this year. The leader of the ANC is almost assured of victory in presidential elections in 2014 given the party's dominance over politics.
The verbal sparring is unusual for the ANC, which has ruled since the end of the white-minority apartheid government in 1994.
The former liberation movement, which turned 100 this year, strives to keep its internal rifts private and punishes those who speak out against the party or its members.
Zuma told the same news conference the Youth League must abide by the ANC's constitution, but refused to be drawn into the fray. - Reuters