We're guilty for thinking - Malema

Pretoria - Embattled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema used what he said could be his farewell address on Friday to press his calls for nationalisation of South Africa's economy, making clear he is determined to remain a political force.

Malema made his first public appearance since an ANC appeals body confirmed a finding that he is guilty of serious discipline violations. He was given a chance to argue against a possibly career-ending suspension from the party, but seemed to acknowledge on Friday that his options are limited.

"Maybe this is a farewell speech," he said.

He went on to deliver a lengthy review of the Youth League's history, saying founding members like Nelson Mandela had radicalised the larger organisation in the 1950s. While Mandela had led the battle to end apartheid, the Youth League today must fight for economic liberation, Malema said, calling for "nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry."

Key issues

Malema's proposals to address the key issues of poverty and unemployment have earned him criticism from some in the ANC, but applause from frustrated young South Africans. This week, both the president and the mining minister have reiterated that nationalising mines is not the ANC government's policy.

On Friday, about 200 top Youth League leaders greeted Malema, dressed in a yellow T-shirt and black beret, with spirited song, and several times interrupted his speech with cheers. At the end of his hour-long speech, they rose to serenade him with an apartheid-era song commemorating the fighting spirit of young South Africans.

Malema made an oblique reference during his speech to reports his finances are being investigated amid allegations he has peddled his influence over the government in his home province, Limpopo. He has denied accusations he is corrupt.

"We are now preparing for a life outside the ANC, and possibly in prison," Malema said, but added he believed he would ultimately prevail.

Malema claimed his ideological rivals were trying to silence him and repress the Youth League.

"We are found guilty for thinking," he said, referring to the disciplinary process.

He repeated accusations that he was brought before the ANC disciplinary committee to settle political scores, allegations the appeals committee dismissed. He called his disciplinary hearings unfair, but said he would not take the party he loves to court, an option that is open to him.

Power struggle

The punishment he faces could lead to the ANC calling for him to step down as head of the Youth League. But Malema said Friday he would only step down if the Youth League demanded it, setting the stage for a protracted power struggle.

In the future, Malema said, South African leaders will not be able to blame the country's problems on apartheid.

"Our generation will have to take full responsibility on why young people do not have jobs and why there are not proper houses for all our people," he said.

Malema's youth wing is known for getting voters to the polls and using its weight to choose party leaders. Malema is credited with helping President Jacob Zuma come to power in 2009.

The ANC, which marks its 100th anniversary this year, has won every national election in South Africa, and most provincial and local votes since apartheid ended in 1994.

Since 2009, Malema has questioned Zuma's leadership, one of the reasons he was initially hauled before the disciplinary committee. He was found guilty on charges related to comments about Zuma and about the government's support for the government of neighbouring Botswana, which the ANC Youth League had labelled imperialist.

The charges concerned relatively narrow issues, compared to the broader debates Malema has sparked.

In September, Malema lost a suit brought by a white rights group that had accused him of hate speech for repeatedly singing a song some whites find offensive.

Malema and others say "Shoot the Boer" is a call to resist oppression. Malema and his supporters have continued to sing the song despite a court order banning it.

He also has repeatedly defied more senior party leaders by arguing the country's mines should be nationalised, and land forcibly seized from whites and given to blacks.

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