Suspended ANC Youth League (ANCYL) President Julius Malema. Picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

The imminent suspension of Julius Malema from the ANC and its youth league has sparked fresh speculation about who is likely to take the reins of the increasingly militant young lions once Malema leaves the political stage.

This weekend, Malema failed in a bid to overturn a guilty verdict handed down in November by the ANC’s national disciplinary committee, which slapped him with a five-year suspension for bringing the ANC into disrepute, among other offences.

The party’s national disciplinary committee of appeals (NDCA) ruled on Saturday that the original verdict would stick, but has given Malema 14 days to present arguments in mitigation of sentence.

Whatever the outcome of this process – the suspension period could either be reduced or increased – Malema is widely expected to begin serving his suspension within weeks, if not days.

This has opened the door for his deputy, Ronald Lamola, to take up the presidency, at least in an acting capacity, the moment Malema is gone.

But Lamola, a staunch ally of Malema, is not expected to have it all his own way, as other contenders include youth league treasurer Pule Mabe and Gauteng youth league chairman Lebohang Maile.

Lamola and Mabe live to fight another day after the NDCA dropped charges against them and youth league deputy secretary-general Kenetswe Mosenogi relating to an incident at Luthuli House when they interrupted a closed meeting of the ANC’s top brass.

The youth league’s constitution stipulates that, in the absence of the league president, his deputy (Lamola) will assume the “duties and responsibilities” of the league presidency.

As a close ally of Malema, Lamola is also expected to continue the push for President Jacob Zuma to be replaced as leader of the ANC.

However, sources in the youth league have said that Mabe, having served in the league leadership longer than Lamola, regards himself as the rightful heir to Malema’s throne.

The league’s constitution also notes that its national executive committee (NEC), which consists of the organisation’s top five leaders plus 30 elected members, is the “highest decision making body in-between congresses” and that its “decisions, orders and/or directives shall be final and binding on all lower structures and members of the ANC Youth League”.

The NEC is therefore empowered to make decisions on the way forward even under current circumstances and in the absence of a president.

In fact, the NEC is scheduled to meet regional and provincial leaders in Pretoria on Thursday, when Malema’s fate is likely to be discussed.

It is not known whether Malema – or his fellow suspended leaders, secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa and spokesman Floyd Shivambu – will attend the meeting.

Youth league members in KwaZulu-Natal are planning a different course of action.

Malema disbanded the provincial leadership last year after it refused to endorse his call for Zuma to be replaced when the ANC meets in Mangaung in December.

Now some KZN youth league members are planning to call for an extraordinary national general council to elect an entirely new leadership.

Such an extraordinary council can be summoned in two ways: either by the NEC itself, or at the insistence of a two-thirds majority of the provinces.

It is unclear how many, if any, provinces would support a call for a general council.