- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 4, 2010

JOHANNESBURG | South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) on Monday night postponed a disciplinary hearing for its Youth League leader, who is accused of targeting whites with vicious chants and criticizing President Jacob Zuma.

However, ANC leaders might find the situation with Youth League President Julius Malema a welcome distraction from recent polls that show the public is angry about the party’s inability to deal with issues such as unemployment and corruption.

Official statistics suggest that one in four South Africans is out of work, but analysts and aid groups put unemployment as high as 40 percent.

Mr. Malema, who grew up in extreme poverty as the son of a domestic worker, owns two luxury homes in the wealthiest suburb of Johannesburg and several imported cars. His youth group has denied charges of corruption but has not explained how he has amassed such wealth.

“The National Disciplinary Committee has not completed its work and consequently it will reconvene next week,” ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said of the postponed hearing for Mr. Malema, who also stands accused of “bringing the party into disrepute.”

The ANC Youth League leader also is accused of praising and pledging support for the dictatorial rule of President Robert Mugabe in neighboring Zimbabwe, where Mr. Zuma is trying to mediate between parties who contested that nation’s 2008 election.

Mr. Mugabe lost the election but refused to hand over power, forcing the opposition into an ill-fitting coalition. The South African government has been at pains to show that it has not taken sides in the conflict.

In the wake of Mr. Malema’s visit last month to Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, Mr. Zuma — who had previously supported the youth leader — described his behavior as “totally out of order” and warned that action would be taken against him.

Mr. Malema fired back, condemning the president for criticizing him in public.

But both men could have bigger battles.

A recent opinion poll showed that only 27 percent of voters support Mr. Malema, while 59 percent said the ANC should discipline him. The polling was done by TNS Research Surveys, an international firm that also monitors political and consumer opinion in Europe, India and the USA.

In addition, TNS found that in the first quarter of 2010, support for Mr. Zuma had dropped from 58 to 43 percent, the biggest fall for a ruling head of state since the advent of democratic rule in South Africa in 1994.

The research showed that key concerns in the electorate were a lack of jobs and housing and rising levels of corruption.