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Zuma's political rival to lead anti-poverty march

By Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
updated 4:47 AM EDT, Thu October 27, 2011
ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, pictured in August, has praised Zimbabwe's land reform program.
ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, pictured in August, has praised Zimbabwe's land reform program.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • ANC Youth League expects as many as 5,000 marchers
  • The league wants Zuma replaced as the party's and country's president
  • The march is seen as a litmus test of Malema's political support
  • Malema is accused of sowing dissent within the ANC

Johannesburg (CNN) -- Security will be stepped up Thursday ahead of what is expected to be one of the biggest anti-poverty protests since democracy came to South Africa in 1994.

The ruling party's youth wing says it has mobilized 5,000 young people to march from South Africa's economic capital, Johannesburg, to the presidential headquarters in Pretoria.

"On Thursday and Friday the ANC (African National Congress) Youth League will lead mass protests of the underemployed and unemployed youth, the landless, the homeless, informal settlement dwellers and those aspiring to quality education and decent lives," ANC Youth League president Julius Malema wrote in an open letter.

Malema has caused a stir with his praise of Zimbabwe's land reform program, in which white-owned farms and businesses were taken by the state and given to black Zimbabweans. He has called on black South Africans to take over land that was "stolen from them by white criminals." He also wants the country's mines to be nationalized. Despite opposition against the nationalization of mines by the ANC-run government, the party is currently investigating the feasibility of implementing such a policy and is likely to take a decision on the issue at its elective conference next year.

Malema is currently facing disciplinary proceedings for sowing division within the party and bringing it into disrepute. The last protest action organized by the Youth League, which took place in Johannesburg in August, descended into chaos. Protesters hurled bottles and rocks at police, who reacted by firing water cannons and stun grenades. Journalists were attacked and some were injured. Thursday's planned march is seen by many as an attempt by Malema to flex his political muscle and demonstrate his capacity to mobilized popular support.

Malema and the ANC Youth League helped propel President Jacob Zuma to power in 2009, but they have recently become his fiercest critics, accusing his administration of being too afraid to upset white industry leaders, at the expense of poor blacks. "This is sad because if such fear continues, the economy will never be transformed and white supremacy, racism and subjugation of the majority will continue forever," Malema said.

Government ministers and opposition parties have urged young people not to attend Thursday's march, arguing that it will achieve nothing and only create chaos. While poverty and joblessness are real issues affecting real people, this march is seen by many as the Youth League's most aggressive push to boot Zuma out of office.

According to the government's national planning commission, South Africa has witnessed a rise in unemployment since the political transition in 1994. The national unemployment rate in South Africa is 25.7% and according to a survey conducted by the South African Institute of Race Relations, youth unemployment is double that, at 51% . The survey also found that the average job created by a government program lasted just 46 days. The Youth League argues that the government has failed to implement the right policies. "The ANC-led liberation movement constantly changes economic policy and direction, with no tangible results in solving the problems of radicalized poverty," Malema has charged.

On Monday, Zuma outlined efforts being made to change the situation. "On November 18, I will host a joint meeting with business, labor and the community sector, to have an intensive discussion of the economic climate, economic transformation and job creation," he said.

Billions of dollars have been set aside by the government to rejuvenate industries and invest in infrastructure in an effort to create jobs, but these are long-term plans that do not address current poverty.

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