30-year old Julius Malema, who is due to attend a disciplinary hearing hosted by the African National Congress, is at the centre of conflict once again as protesters clash with South African police in Johannesburg.
Mr. Malema is charged along with five other officials of the ANC’s youth league. They could face expulsion from South Africa’s ruling left-wing party.
He is accused of criticising Jacob Zuma, the South African president and party leader, as well as encouraging divisions within the party.
On an official visit to Zimbabwe last year, Mr. Malema pledged party support for President Robert Mugabe. This was at a time when South Africa and Zimbabwe were in diplomatic talks about relations between the two countries.
He has also called for the Botswanan government to be overthrown.
He is under separate investigation for allegations of corruption and fraud.
To put it into context, analysts say the hearing will set the scene for next year’s presidential elections, where President Zuma hopes to secure his second term as the leader of the country. Should Mr. Malema be dismissed from the party, its future could come under question.
The BBC’s correspondent Karen Allen added that some of Mr. Malema’s controversial moves within the party have strong support amongst “impoverished black communities.”
He supports the nationalisation of mines and has also called for nationalising white-owned farmland – bold statements which have ruffled feathers within the party leadership.
However, such moves have strong support in his already-powerful black working-class communities. Already a powerful man within the youth group, Mr. Malena brings with him a 350,00-strong block vote, so the results of the hearing could have strong consequences for the ANC’s future in South Africa.
Backing for Mr. Malema was palpable yesterday afternoon, as police fired stun grenades at his supporters. They had gathered outside Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters. Reports say the protesters chanted and remained outside despite police setting up a steel gate and barbed wire blockades in the area.
Later, the protests intensified as rubbish was set on fire, stones were thrown at police and T-shirts bearing President Zuma’s face were burned. So far, casualties remain limited – with one police officer and a handful of journalists injured.