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Sunday Times STLive By Sunday Times Editorial , 2012-04-08

Zuma's narrow interests dictate national agenda

THIS week the axe finally fell on controversial ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.

After four years of failing to take firm action against the firebrand leader over numerous statements that have divided both the country and the ruling party, the ANC's national disciplinary committee slapped Malema with an immediate suspension and effectively banned him from addressing party platforms.

The committee took the decision just days after Malema shifted his propaganda war against President Jacob Zuma into high gear by publicly accusing the ANC leader of being a dictator.

Zuma, who will be seeking re-election as ANC president at the party's national conference in December, was immediately prodded into action by the criticism.

In an unprecedented move, the president and the five other most senior ANC officials convened a news conference where they berated Malema for his remarks and tried to convince the public that they were united, despite claims that some of them backed the youth league.

A day later, Malema was suspended.

Under normal circumstances, this kind of decisive action by the ruling party's top leadership would have been applauded.

But its timing suggests that the motive has nothing to do with the country's interests - or even those of the ANC - and everything to do with saving Zuma's political career.

Malema has, over the years, insulted everyone from former president Thabo Mbeki to DA leader Helen Zille, from retired Anglican archbishop and struggle stalwart Desmond Tutu to cabinet ministers, without any serious action being taken against him by Luthuli House.

Malema's big mouth suited the ANC as his insults served to intimidate those who were opposed to the party's bid to stop Zuma's prosecution on fraud and corruption charges related to the arms deal.

When the public complained about the disrespect shown by the young politician towards his elders, the ANC would put out statements defending Malema's "militancy" and the youth league's "radical" stance.

But now that Malema has turned on Zuma - wanting him ousted at the December conference in favour of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe - he is being denounced as "ill-disciplined" and Luthuli House is pulling out all the stops to get rid of him.

The Malema saga is a reflection of all that is wrong with the current administration at both Luthuli House, and more worryingly, the Union Buildings.

Everything - from Malema's suspension to the controversial reinstatement of police crime intelligence chief Richard Mdluli - seems geared to secure Zuma a second term.