Julius Malema is being helped to foment his "mining revolution" by ANC backers, according to senior youth league figures who continue to support him.
He also wants to create a "crisis for capital and President Jacob Zuma."
In Parliament, Zuma said on Thursday that the tragedy of Marikana was because of poverty, poor living conditions and the slow pace of transformation in the mining industry. But he condemned the "illegal strikes, the incitement and intimidation", saying it would not assist workers. He also warned that the government was watching the instigation of violence in the mines and would "act very soon".
The ANC national executive committee is meeting this weekend and is expected to discuss the crisis.
The nearly month-old "revolution", spearheaded by Malema, who is operating in what many believe is a political leadership vacuum, has been linked to upheavals at mines in North West and on the West Rand. It includes the operational stalemate at Lonmin's Marikana mine following last month's massacre of 34 striking workers, the shutting down of Anglo Platinum operations at its Thembelani mine in Rustenburg, the wildcat strike at Goldfields in Carletonville and the threat by mineworkers around Rustenburg to shut down the mines next week. Malema also found time to address disgruntled soldiers south of Johannesburg on Wednesday.
"There was a political vacuum and we occupied that space. If we failed to do that the wrong elements would have taken that space," Malema told the Mail & Guardian. "We took it while the leadership was indoors speaking to themselves."
Two youth league members said Malema was furthering a youth league project and that the league was fully behind him, although it could not support him financially because of its limited funds.
A youth league national working committee member said Malema had accelerated a youth league project because of his anger. "We were supposed to put systems in place first, but Julius went ahead after he was expelled from the ANC. We did not want it to happen the way it has. We wanted NUM [National Union of Mineworkers] to be partners in the mining revolution but developments have left the NUM behind.
"It is quite easy to start a revolution in South Africa. But we warned the ANC during the disciplinary process that it is impossible to control people once they are outside the movement. We hope they learn from this."
"We want the management to come down and declare that they will give people R12500 [a month]. If they don't do that, the workers will be resilient. They will carry on, even if it's for another six months."
Asked about the possibility of the mines being closed as a result, the youth league leader said it would be fine because the government would eventually take them over and "they can resell them to new investors from China".
Destabilising the country
Both members said that ANC leaders believed Malema was being funded by Zimbabwe's Zanu-PF to weaken the ANC internally and to destabilise the country, but it was not true – it was "a distortion" to link Malema to Robert Mugabe, whom the ANC did not trust.
"ANC leaders can't get over Julius getting an audience with Mugabe, which they can't do ... and the fact that Mugabe gave Julius cattle."
The two insiders said Malema was being funded by ANC members, who wanted to see a leadership change at the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung in December.
Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini told Business Day on Wednesday that "there have been certain individuals behind him who are funding this for their own political ambitions. Julius Malema may be the point person running at the front, but we know that there are big guns behind him.
"It makes Cosatu very angry that people are going to use the unsuspecting workers, sometimes leading [them] to their deaths … just because people want to be president of the country or the ANC in future.
"This is a systematic, orchestrated, long-time plan that is unfolding now," Dlamini said.
"The ANC as the ruling party shouldn't be afraid to be bold, condemn and expose … the ANC must continue to identify and deal with those who fund this chaos."
Malema said he would visit Lephalale in Limpopo next week, where there have been violent strikes over the alleged ill-treatment of locals near Eskom's Medupi power station. The area is also home to Exxaro's Grootgeluk coalmine and the Matimba power station.
The mining revolution campaign is part of "the fight for economic freedom in our lifetime" launched by the league last year. It is being rolled out by an obscure structure called the Friends of the Youth League.
The labour issues that Malema has homed in on have taken on political overtones, which is making it difficult for mining companies to negotiate. Also the platform and airtime afforded to him has exposed the leadership vacuum in South Africa.
Platinum mining analyst at Cadiz solutions, Peter Major, said: "We need a real president, a real government."
Senior executive of transformation and stakeholder relations at the Chamber of Mines, Vusi Mabena, said there was great support for Zuma's initiative to set up an inter-ministerial committee following the Marikana massacre.
"We also all supported him when establishing a commission of inquiry, but where is it? In such a dire situation we may have needed to break some protocols to get things going quickly."
Bishop Paul Verryn, head of the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, said inequality in South Africa has reached the brink and other sectors would follow. "This is part of something bigger, of what's going on in this country, and there are other places which need to get their houses in order.
"Frankly, everybody [is at risk] – there is inequality in the church, in the public sector, in the army."
Some industry insiders believe that Malema's instigation occurred after the fact, and was not the cause of the initial unrest.
It may have started in December last year when rock drillers, believed to be from the Easter Cape and working at Impala Platinum, decided to strike. It was supposedly because of to unhappiness with the representation they were receiving from their shop stewards, and the need to look after their own interests.
Early this year, a wildcat strike brought Implats to its knees, but ultimately the company rehired many of the workers it had fired for the illegal action.
One source said the Marikana area was a large interrelated community, where many mineworkers shared family and social networks. So it was possible that the apparent success of the Implats workers was noted by this larger community, and contributed to the decision by Lonmin workers to down tools, which increased the likelihood that the strikes would spread.