JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African police fired stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets Tuesday at thousands of stone-throwing protesters, who burned flags of the ruling African National Congress party and called for the ouster of the country's president.
The protesters were supporters of Julius Malema, the fiery leader of the ANC's youth league, who was brought before a party disciplinary committee charged with bringing the ANC into disrepute. He faces possible expulsion or suspension.
After the day of sporadic violence, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe announced that they were moving the hearing to a secret location outside the city to allow business in the country's economic capital to continue uninterrupted.
Earlier Tuesday, Malema urged his cheering followers to be peaceful. They had burned the green, black and gold party flag and T-shirts carrying images of South African President Jacob Zuma and other top party leaders.
"You are here because you love the ANC. We must exercise restraint," he said.
The hearing follows the youth league's calls for the overthrow of the government of neighboring Botswana. The youth league had accused democratically elected Botswana President Ian Khama of cooperating with "imperialists" and undermining "the African agenda."
Analysts say the disciplinary hearing is a pretext to help ANC leaders get rid of populists like Malema, who has mobilized support demanding nationalization of South Africa's wealthy mines and appropriation of white-owned farm land for black peasants.
"Zuma must go!" protesters chanted, angry over the disciplining of Malema and Zuma's failure to fulfill election promises to address growing inequality and poverty in South Africa, which despite being an economic powerhouse has 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 then President Thabo Mbeki.
Protesting youth leaguers threatened to do the same to Zuma at the 2012 ANC congress.
"In 2012 we are voting Mbalula," they chanted, referring to former youth league president and current Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. Whoever wins the party presidency gets to run for president. Seventeen years after winning the fight against apartheid, the ANC dominates politics in this country.
The South African Communist Party, an ally of the ANC, charged the protesters were trying to blackmail Zuma and condemned "those who are clandestinely supporting this agenda."
ANC spokesman Jackson Mtethu accused youth league leaders of mobilizing the protesters and said they "should also take full responsibility for the violence, criminality and ill-discipline that has accompanied these crowds."
Malema, 30, called a news conference on Monday to deny that he was bussing in supporters.
Nqobile Ntshangase contributed to this report from Johannesburg.
- Julius Malema