Zuma said in a newspaper interview published on Friday that Julius Malema, who has called for the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines, did not have control over government policy.
Under Malema, the hardline youth league of the ANC is becoming a more significant political force after it helped Zuma become president in May last year.
Malema earlier this week led university students in a song — popular during the fight against apartheid — which called for white farmers to be killed, prompting the opposition Freedom Front Plus to lay criminal charges against him.
Malema’s demand to bring the mines under state control alarmed investors who want to see South Africa pursuing business-friendly policies. Zuma has denied its is government policy to nationalise the mines.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian, Zuma said ANC leaders spoke with Malema regularly and that “there’s a leader in him for the future; a man who cares about people and who can take initiative”.
“People want us to shout him down. Why must we do that? … Even Madiba (former President Nelson Mandela), who is today an icon, was one of the most vocal youth league (leaders),” Zuma said.
The ANC youth wing has been vocal in pushing for leftist policy changes, including the nationalisation of mines in South Africa, the world’s biggest platinum producer.
Earlier this week the league said it was losing confidence in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for not following party policy. Another leftist ANC ally, the COSATU trade union umbrella body, had criticised Gordhan’s budget in February.
But Zuma told the Mail and Guardian that “there’s no president of the youth league who can just declare policy … People must differentiate between private views and policy”.
Relations between the ANC and COSATU have soured as the labour federation, which also backed Zuma for the presidency, pushes for economic policy to move to the left.
Zuma said debate among the ANC and its allies, which include the communist party, did not mean the coalition was “falling apart”.
“(The concern) is that people are talking with anger and fury. That is part of what politicians at times do. But it doesn’t suggest the alliance can’t hold,” he said.
COSATU has also complained about corruption amongst politicians and asked for an audit of their lifestyles.
“We are all agreed on corruption, we are all fighting corruption,” Zuma said, adding there was no need for further legislation to deal with the scourge.
Zuma came under fire from opposition parties earlier this week for failing to declare his assets for nearly a year after taking office as required by ethics laws. On Wednesday he submitted a list that showed he had no business interests
The ruling ANC will hold a three-day meeting of its decision-making National Executive Committee over the weekend which will, among other issues, discuss the calls for audits of politicians’ lifestyles. Reuters