Expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema's spat with deputy president Ronald Lamola has divided the league ahead of Mangaung.
In response to Malema's scathing attack on Lamola in the Star on Wednesday – in which he labelled Lamola a "sellout" and a "traitor", the league issued a stern rebuke of the controversial youth leader.
"Malema's unfortunate action of resorting to public squabbling and accusations is not befitting the stature with which young people regard our organisation and hence we will rise to defend anything we view as an unwarranted attack against it [and] its views and positions," read the statement issued on Wednesday.
Malema's tirade against Lamola came after the latter issued an order to all rank and file league members not to gather in support of the controversial youth leader at his upcoming court appearance on charges of corruption.
Lamola declared that any ANC Youth League member coming out to support Malema would be doing so in their personal capacity as the league "does not have a case to answer for, hence it cannot be party to the court-case process".
Malema faces charges of fraud, money-laundering and corruption related to the issuing and servicing of government tenders in Limpopo, and is due to appear for a second time in the Polokwane regional court on Friday.
Malema then had his expulsion upheld in late April after appealing the ruling.
The league and Malema have since claimed they would be fighting for his re-admittance to the ANC by challenging the ruling at the ANC elective conference in Mangaung in December – with Lamola being constitutionally mandated to lead the organisation until further notice.
But it appears the league is growing weary of this unconditional support.
"It's very unfortunate that he as our leader [Malema] made those remarks," league spokesperson Khusela Sangoni-Khawe told the Mail & Guardian.
"While there was a national executive committee [NEC] resolution to fight for his re-admission [after] the expulsion, it is not up to the league to fight for Malema personally."
But in spite of this stance by the league, there are still senior NEC members within the youth organisation who feel Malema should be supported unconditionally.
"We are still supporting him and there's been no resolution by the NEC otherwise," the source – who requested anonymity – told the M&G. The source said the league should support Malema at his court appearances as the case was "nothing but a campaign to silence him".
'Lead by terror and fear'
But it is unclear what level of support for Malema there is within the NEC, as other sources claim the controversial figure will soon be dropped by the league as he is no longer serving the organisation's interests but his own.
"There are some within the league who still want to lead by terror and fear. People need to realise those days are over," the source said to the M&G. "If we are to keep quiet now, what will happen in the future? A standard must be set to show we will not tolerate a cult of personality and allow someone to lead like a dictator."
In response to the standoff, Malema's ally and former league spin doctor Floyd Shivambu – who was also expelled from the ANC – called for cool heads.
"The ANC Youth League and the struggle for economic freedom in our lifetime is bigger than all of us and should never be compromised nor drowned in sounds of tactical differences," Shivambu said.
Shivambu warned that the infighting between youth league leaders ahead of the ANC's crucial elective conference was likely to weaken those who were calling for leadership and policy change..