It is no surprise that the African National Congress (ANC) expelled from the party Julius Malema, the radical former head of the ANC Youth League. Once an ally of incumbent president Jacob Zuma, and a player in Zuma’s successful defeat of former president Thabo Mbeki, relations between the two subsequently soured. Malema was usually counted in the camp that seeks to unseat Zuma at the next party congress in 2012. Malema made himself the spokesmen for the marginalized in South Africa in the tradition of Winnie Mandela. Despite a flamboyant personal lifestyle, he opposed an ANC social and economic policy based on private property and economic liberalism. Hence he called for nationalization of banks and mines and land without compensation. He also used anti-white, overtly racist rhetoric.
The ANC’s stated arguments for expelling Zuma provide some insight into the ruling party. The national disciplinary committee referred to the party’s constitution that "demands that discipline be enforced without exception." The party promotes freedom of speech --but only so long as a party member does not contravene the disciplinary code. Malema was found guilty of portraying the party and President Zuma in a "negative light" with the potential "to sow division and disunity in the ANC." He was cited for propagating racism. Malema has been notoriously arrogant in his public statements, and the national disciplinary committee made repeated references to Malema’s "lack of remorse," which made subsequent "rehabilitation" unlikely.
Today the ANC Youth League announced that it plans on appealing the expulsion sentence, on the grounds that the decision is "politically motivated." The league’s secretary general, Sindiso Magaqa, even went as far as to say that "[the ruling] means we will have a president of the ANC Youth League who is not a member of the ANC." In order for this appeal to work, Malema would require much broader support from others within the ANC than he currently has. This is unlikely as the disciplinary committee’s chairperson, Derek Hanekom, has made clear that anyone siding with Malema is essentially disrespecting the ANC -- a public move many ANC members may not be prepared to assume.
To this outsider, the ANC appears to be riddled with factions -- though probably no more so than other mass political parties. (India’s Congress Party at various points in its history comes to mind.) Nevertheless, there seems to be a consensus in favor of an economy based on private property, liberal economic policy and against racism. Malema sought to undermine that consensus, which may mean little to his natural constituency, the marginalized in the townships.
As of now, it is likely that Malema’s political career is over. He does not seem to have the political skills of, say, a Richard Nixon, to make a comeback. But, the constituency he represented is large, and a new leader will likely emerge, within or without the ANC. The challenge South Africa -- not just the ANC -- faces is how to grow the economy fast enough to reduce significantly the numbers of those marginalized who provided Malema with his political support.