|Suspension has been perceived as punishment for shifting support from Zuma to Mbeki, left [Reuters]
South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has upheld the membership suspension of one of its prominent youth leaders convicted of causing rifts within the bloc.
A panel rejected an appeal on Saturday by Julius Malema, who was found guilty by the disciplinary committee in November and was seeking to overturn the five-year suspension, but it said he could seek a lighter sentence.
The committee will hear testimony for the mitigation of its sentence in two weeks.
|Malema has been attracting the support of scores of the country's unemployed black youth [Al Jazeera]
The suspension effectively curtails the career of Malema, one of the country's most renowned politicians whose calls for a major transformation of Africa's largest economy unnerved investors and drew serious criticism from some ANC leaders.
Malema, 30, will be stripped of his position as president of the ANC Youth League and ostracised by the party.
It will also likely quiet Malema's calls, at least in the short term, for a state takeover of the mining sector in the major commodities producer, analysts said.
Malema is also facing a criminal probe that is looking into his finances.
Five other suspended top youth league officials also had their appeals thrown out.
Responding to a protest by Malema and two co-accused that they were never allowed to plead for a lighter sentence, the appeals committee referred the matter back to the disciplinary committee for arguments from both sides, in favour of both decreasing and increasing the sentence.
Cyril Ramaphosa, a senior ANC politician and head of the appeals committee, told a press conference at the ANC's headquarters in Johannesburg, the capital, that the appeals committee had set aside one of the youth leaguers' convictions, on a charge of barging into a meeting of senior ANC leaders.
But the other convictions were upheld - including, for Malema, that he had sowed division in the party with his support for former president Thabo Mbeki and brought it into disrepute with a call to oust the democratic government of neighbouring Botswana.
"The appellant [Malema] has failed to convince the National Disciplinary Committee of Appeals that the charges were instituted to settle political scores"
- Cyril Ramaphosa, senior ANC politician
Malema's fight for political survival came as Jacob Zuma, the country's president, seeks to consolidate his control over the ANC ahead of party elections in December.
The youth league leader was a key ally when Zuma toppled Mbeki to take control of the ANC in 2007, but he later turned on Zuma, praising Mbeki as a better leader, remarks that resulted in one of his convictions.
The youth league's "young lions", as members are known, have criticised Zuma for failing to do more to reverse the poverty still facing the large majority of blacks 18 years after the end of white-minority rule.
Their calls to nationalise mines, seize white-owned land and redistribute wealth to poor blacks have put the ruling party in an awkward position both with the black population that is the bulk of its electorate and with the business community.
But Ramaphosa said the appeals committee did not find evidence that settling scores was the motive for the disciplinary case.
"The appellant has failed to convince the National Disciplinary Committee of Appeals that the charges were instituted to settle political scores," he said.