- Julius Malema's supporters say the disciplinary action is an attempt to silence him
- He must "vacate his position" as the African National Congress youth leader
- Malema is found guilty of provoking divisions within the ruling party
- He has 14 days to appeal
South Africa's ruling party Thursday suspended its controversial youth leader for five years after a disciplinary committee found him guilty of sowing divisions.
Julius Malema must "vacate his position" as the African National Congress youth leader, the party's national disciplinary committee said.
Malema and the youth league helped propel President Jacob Zuma to power in 2009, but have recently become his fiercest critics, accusing his administration of failing to improve the lives of the poor.
He faced a string of charges, including sowing party divisions by comparing Zuma to his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, and bringing the party into disrepute by urging the toppling of the Botswana government.
In July, Malema criticized South Africa's decision to vote for a no-fly zone over Libya and accused the government of failing to prioritize the African agenda.
"In the past, we know president Mbeki used to represent that agenda very well," Malema was quoted as saying at the time.
In its 136-page verdict, the party's disciplinary hearing found that although he did not mention Zuma by name, he did so by innuendo.
The committee also said his statements on Botswana, which he described as a "puppet regime," are reckless and damaged the reputation of the government.
The disciplinary body said he can appeal within 14 days.
However, the committee found him not guilty of sowing racism and political intolerance after calling white South Africans criminals for stealing land belonging to blacks. He wants white-owned commercial farms expropriated and mines nationalized, a call analysts say is scaring investors.
Malema's supporters consider the disciplinary action an attempt to silence the anti-Zuma voice within the ruling party.
The 30-year-old is also the subject of a criminal investigation by the the national revenue service over allegations he used his political position to influence the awarding of government tenders.