JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - The youth wing of South Africa's ANC on Sunday insisted suspended Julius Malema continue as their leader, in open defiance against an order from the parent body.
Leaders of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress Youth League (ANC) met in Johannesburg to discuss Malema's summary suspension after he called President Jacob Zuma a dictator, while his appeal against a permanent expulsion was still pending.
"The NEC agreed that ANC Youth League President should continue participating as a President of the ANC Youth League and perform all his functions as a President, because the decision to temporarily suspend has not been officially communicated to the ANCYL as a structure of the ANC," the body said in a statement.
Malema, 31, on Thursday appealed his expulsion from the ruling ANC, which found him guilty of sowing divisions within the party.
The young firebrand has greeted his expulsion on February 29 with his usual defiance, accusing President Jacob Zuma of "dictatorial" behaviour, prompting the party to issue a gag order and bar him from all ANC activities.
He also ignored that order, appearing last weekend at Easter services for the ANC.
He has already vowed to challenge his expulsion in court if he loses the internal appeal.
The ANCYL called for a "political discussion" to "amicably resolve the misunderstandings".
"The ANC says that the ANC Youth League is not charged, but the utter refusal of ANC leadership to meet with the ANCYL suggests that the ANCYL is charged and being banished for reasons which we still do not understand."
The case is seen as a test of Zuma's authority within the ANC ahead of its December conference at which he will seek another five years as party leader.
Given the ANC's huge voter support, retaining the party leadership would virtually guarantee him a second term as South Africa's president.
Since being elected Youth League president in 2008, Malema has stirred controversy with racially charged rhetoric.