THE African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in Gauteng has moved to close down space for Julius Malema to mobilise against a second term for President Jacob Zuma, threatening to take tough action against league members backing Mr Malema's campaign.

The league in the province also wants his post filled to avoid the confusion caused by those who continue to refer to Mr Malema as the league's president.

This comes as Mr Malema is managing to find coverage in the media despite being expelled from the ANC, which he has used to attack Mr Zuma's leadership in the ANC and in government. This has infuriated some senior ANC and alliance leaders, including Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who alleges that most newspapers have taken sides in the succession race.

Gauteng was expected to provide the third-largest number of delegates at the ANC's electoral conference in Mangaung later this year, and the province had been linked to calls for leadership change in the party.

Mr Malema has been criss-crossing the country and addressing his supporters through rallies organised by the Friends of the Youth League, which is seen as a vehicle to campaign against Mr Zuma's re-election.

Gauteng youth league deputy chairman Simon Molefe said at a media briefing yesterday the league would take disciplinary steps against any members or structures in the province who attended Friends of the Youth League meetings.

"The formation (is) counter-revolutionary, primarily aimed at undermining the authority of the ANC as well as seeking to sow divisions within the organisation in the buildup to the Mangaung congress," said Mr Molefe.

He said the Friends of the Youth League was "no different to how the Congress of the People (COPE) came into existence, primarily informed by a reluctance to accept outcomes of internal ANC processes". COPE broke away from the ANC in 2009 following the recall of former President Thabo Mbeki.

The Friends of the Youth League was established after Mr Malema was stripped of his ANC membership, and has been providing a platform for him to undermine the expulsion.

Acting Gauteng youth league secretary Nkhensani Kubayi said yesterday the league's national executive committee should distance itself from the Friends of the Youth League. "Let them come out in public so that members of the youth league in the country understand that we do not support this structure."

Mr Malema's supporters remain in charge of the youth league at a national level and in most provinces, and have managed to fend off attempts to have a new national president elected.

Mr Malema said in an interview last month that the leadership of the youth league was consulting with him for advice ahead of the ANC policy conference, suggesting he was still able to lead the organisation from behind the scenes.

However, Mr Molefe insisted yesterday that "Mr Malema is no more the president of the youth league and we want the league to move forward on the matter".

stones@bdfm.co.za