Johannesburg: South African police detonated stun grenades and fired a water cannon Tuesday at hundreds of stone-throwing members of the ruling party`s youth league, who burned party flags and called for the president`s ouster as their leaders were brought before a party disciplinary committee.
The youth league`s feisty and powerful leader, Julius Malema, and five other officers could be expelled or suspended from the African National Congress for bringing the party into disrepute with their calls for the overthrow the government of neighboring Botswana.
The youth league had announced plans to send a committee to work with opposition parties in Botswana against democratically elected President Ian Khama. They accused him of cooperating with "imperialists" and undermining "the African agenda."
Malema said the youth league would help bring about regime change in Botswana.
This embarrassed President Jacob Zuma and other party officials who have been leading African condemnation of the United States, Britain and France for allegedly abusing a UN resolution to effect regime change in Libya.
"Zuma must go!" protesters chanted, setting ablaze party flags and T-shirts bearing Zuma`s image. Their actions reflected anger at the disciplining of Malema and general disappointment that the South African leader has failed to fulfill election promises to robustly confront the economic powerhouses` growing inequality and poverty, marked by massive unemployment among young people.
The support of Malema and his youth league was instrumental in getting Zuma elected party president in December 2007 and unceremoniously ousting former President Thabo Mbeki.
Protesting youth leaguers threatened to do the same to Zuma.
"In 2012 we are voting Mbalula," they chanted, referring to former youth league president and current Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and the 2012 ANC congress that will be crucial to Zuma. Whoever wins the party presidency gets to run for president and the ANC remains unchallenged politically in the country.
Party leaders have condemned Malema in the past for his divisive tactics, including the singing of a racist song calling for people to "kill the boer," or white farmer. Recently, Malema has been pushing for the ANC to nationalize the country`s wealthy mining sector, raising concerns among foreign and local investors despite the government`s repeated assurances that it has no such plans.
Tuesday`s violent confrontations took place a block from the party headquarters in downtown Johannesburg and lasted about 45 minutes. At least two journalists reported being hit by stones.