Suspended ANCYL president Julius Malema. Photo: Bongiwe Mchunu

“The gloves are off,” a defiant Julius Malema declared after the announcement of his suspension from the ANC on Thursday, before calling for the removal from power next year of President Jacob Zuma’s ANC leadership.

Wearing a black T-shirt bearing the image of slain freedom fighter Chris Hani, Malema made the call while addressing supporters in Polokwane.

The deposed youth league president had just walked out of an exam room at Unisa’s Polokwane campus. To avoid a throng of journalists, Malema was made to write alone in a separate administration block.

Although he already knew that the ANC had suspended his membership for five years, Malema said he had no details of the ruling.

But he said “we are not shaken” by the suspension.

“What I like about these people who suspended us is that they are brave, they are not scared and they fight for what they believe in.

“And we must also fight for what we believe in. We must never apologise, the gloves are off, let us confront them because their intention is very clear, they want to destroy the ANC Youth League,” Malema declared.

The ANC needed a new leadership, he said. “We are determined, we will be liberated by Mangaung next year. The real leaders of the ANC must now stand up and defend the ANC,” said Malema.

“We must be united, the enemy will smile for this few minutes’ victory, ours is a victory that will last forever,” said Malema to a cheering crowd of over 300 people.

Malema maintained that the autonomy of the youth league should be defended.

“That right of the youth league to raise radical and militant issues must be defended, this is the legacy of Nelson Mandela… we must protect it,” said Malema.

He emphasised that the suspension was not a worry for him and he was not having sleepless nights.

“I have made my contribution in this country, my name will be written in the history books whether you like it or not,” said Malema.

Traffic was brought to a halt when Malema supporters blockaded the city’s Landros Mare Street in support of their troubled leader.

Malema vowed to appeal his suspension through ANC internal structures. He said the league’s national executive committee would meet tomorrow to deliberate on the ANC’s decision.

In the meantime, Malema urged his supporters to continue fighting as he battles to remain active in the party. Malema said the ANC remained his home.

“And when you throw us from the ANC, you are throwing us out of our home and that cannot be left unchallenged,” he said.

He would hold on to his ANC membership card and his standing as the leader of the young lions until the internal appeal process had been finalised.

However, Malema could very well be out in the political wilderness before the end of the year as the ANC is expected to push to have the matter finalised before it embarks on its centenary celebrations in January. One senior ANC member said on Thursday: “Cometh the man, cometh the hour; no one is bigger than the ANC.”

This summed up the sentiment of like-minded leaders in the ANC, that Malema and his fellow youth leaders were a law unto themselves and had become a thorn in the flesh of the party by publicly questioning its economic and international relations policies.

But analysts said the fight for Malema’s political life was far from over. Zuma’s detractors might well use Malema’s misfortunes as a stick to beat Zuma and his leadership with.

The chairman of the ANC’s national disciplinary committee, Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom, on Thursday dismissed suggestions that the case had been politically motivated.

The ANC was merely responding to a call by delegates at its national general council in September last year that the importance of discipline be reinstated and that ANC members and leaders should be reminded of the oath they took when joining the movement, Hanekom said.

The league’s campaign to replace ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe with former league leader, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, had taken a knock with the sanctions against Malema and company, said political analyst Adam Habib.

The outcome of the hearings, particularly the findings against Malema, was likely to deepen divisions within the ANC, he said.The decision would also have an impact on Zuma’s standing in the party, with leaguers already warning neither he nor Mantashe should view themselves as victorious.

However, all indications suggested that Zuma would hold on to the top job after December next year. The real battle, said Habib, would be for the other top five positions – all open for contestation.

It will now be up to the ANC’s national disciplinary committee of appeals, chaired by ANC NEC member Cyril Ramaphosa and including Minister in the Presidency for Planning Trevor Manuel, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, national executive committee member Jessie Duarte and former public enterprises minister Brigitte Mabandla, to pronounce on his political future.

If the appeals committee upholds the disciplinary committee’s ruling Malema’s suspension takes immediate effect and he will be out of the political action leading up to Mangaung.

The appeals committee will want to put the matter to bed before year-end. Next year is an important year for the ANC – which celebrates it centenary and leaders will not want Malema’s struggles to take centre stage.

If the appeals committee upholds the sanctions against Malema and company the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) can at its own discretion institute a review of the decision.

Malema and his lieutenants cannot approach the NEC to review their cases. It will depend on another NEC member to petition the powerful 90-strong committee to review the decision by the NDC and the appeals committee. This would be the truest test of Malema’s support in the ANC and Zuma’s standing.

- Political Bureau