JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Firebrand party rebel Julius Malema mocked South African President Jacob Zuma at a provincial conference this weekend, local media said, in the latest sign of a growing power struggle within the ruling ANC ahead of its leadership election next year.
Malema, currently appealing a five-year suspension from the ANC, led supporters at a conference on Saturday in singing "The shower man is giving us a hard time", the Sunday Times said.
The paper showed a photograph of a beret-clad Malema cupping his hand over his head to imitate a shower. The reference was to Zuma's admission in a 2006 rape trial - in which he was acquitted - that he did not use a condom during sex with a woman he knew to be HIV-positive, but took a shower afterwards in the hope of reducing the risk of infection.
Malema was attending an ANC conference in his home province of Limpopo, where he still commands wide support.
The ANC last month expelled the 30-year-old leader of its powerful youth wing for five years for dividing the party and bringing it into disrepute.
Malema has called for the nationalisation of mines and banks, the seizure of white-owned land, and the overthow of neighbouring Botswana's democratically elected government. His suspension should help pave the way for Zuma to secure a second term as ANC leader, and hence as South African president, at a party conference next year.
But Malema's appearance at the weekend sent a different message from comments last month in which he said he was "finished politically" and had decided to go into cattle farming.
At the conference on Sunday, a key Malema ally scored a major win when he was re-elected as head of the Limpopo ANC. The South African Press Association reported that Casel Mathale fended off a challenge from Deputy Arts and Culture Minister Joe Phaahla, a Zuma supporter.
Zuma's government this month took direct control of parts of several provincial administrations, including Limpopo, in a clampdown on profligate spending.
Pretoria assumed authority over nearly every area of administration in the troubled northern province after it asked for a 1 billion rand overdraft to pay civil servants' salaries.
Limpopo has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, especially in the award of government contracts.