South Africa's ruling party has finally moved to quash a power struggle that was dampening foreign investment and threatening the power of President Jacob Zuma, but appeals and political battles are likely to continue for months.
In a long-awaited ruling today, the African National Congress imposed a five-year suspension on Julius Malema, the controversial president of its youth league, who has campaigned for mining nationalization and the seizure of white-owned farms.
Mr. Malema was also dismissed from the youth-league presidency, and his official spokesman, Floyd Shivambu, was suspended for three years. The youth leader was found guilty of sowing divisions in the party, bringing the party into disrepute, and disrupting a national meeting of party officials.
The unexpectedly harsh disciplinary action against Mr. Malema, after a protracted series of hearings, is a signal that Mr. Zuma has consolidated his ANC power base and strengthened his prospects for re-election in 2014.
Mr. Malema, who has brought thousands of followers onto the streets of Johannesburg in rallies for nationalization and "economic freedom," has emerged as Mr. Zuma's most dangerous challenger. His populist campaigns have exploited the widespread anger over the growing inequality and high rate of joblessness in South Africa, where 70 per cent of youths between the ages of 18 and 24 are neither employed nor in school.
Mr. Malema has powerful allies in the ANC, including Nelson Mandela's former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and he might still regain influence in the party. He immediately vowed to appeal the ANC's ruling to an appeals committee, and the party admitted that he can continue to receive full pay and organize street rallies while his appeal is underway.
At a rally today in his home province, Mr. Malema declared that he would fight "toe to toe" against his adversaries. In a separate statement, the Youth League said it was "outraged" by the ruling and it remains "unshaken" in its demands for the transfer of wealth from "minority hands."
Foreign investors breathed a sigh of relief at the ruling, which appears to diminish the threat of land seizures and nationalization in the mining industry. Immediately after the ruling, South African stocks gained and the rand strengthened.
Some analysts predicted that the ANC ruling has effectively ended Mr. Malema's political career, but others were less certain. He is likely to maintain his political fight over the next year, leading up to a crucial conference in December, 2012, when the ANC will decide whether to keep Mr. Zuma as its leader.
Mr. Malema is also facing a corruption investigation by South African police in connection with government contracts in his home province of Limpopo. He is famous for flaunting a lavish lifestyle, expensive clothes and luxury cars.
He has been a divisive figure in South Africa since his rise to the Youth League presidency in 2008. He became notorious for singing an obscure anti-apartheid song, "Shoot the Boer," despite court rulings that the song constitutes hate speech. He also threatened to ban Twitter, praised Zimbabwe's farm seizures, called an opposition leader a "cockroach" and accused a British journalist of having "rubbish" in his pants.