Police warn Malema’s supporters
Polokwane - Julius Malema - President Jacob Zuma's most prominent critic and an advocate of mining nationalisation - appears in court on Wednesday on corruption charges that his supporters say are politically motivated.
Police said they would close roads for the hearing on Wednesday around the courthouse in Polokwane, the provincial capital of Malema's native Limpopo, 350km north of Johannesburg, for one of the biggest trials since the end of apartheid in 1994.
“No lawlessness will be tolerated and those who break the law will be arrested immediately,” police said in a statement issued before Malema's supporters began a night vigil on Tuesday.
An arrest warrant was issued last week for the former ANC Youth League leader, with local media saying he was facing charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering in the awarding of government contracts in Limpopo.
The hearing on Wednesday is expected to last only a few minutes with prosecutors reading out the charges against him. The court is then likely to release him on bail.
Hundreds of Malema's young supporters sang songs during the raucous vigil at Nirvana Civic Centre in Polokwane including one entitled “It's time to fire Zuma”.
They said Malema is being persecuted for calling into question Zuma's leadership before an ANC vote in December where Zuma is seeking re-election as president of the party that dominates South African politics.
“The laying of these charges demonstrates that the bid for President Zuma's new term as ANC leader has entered a new phase,” Klaas Mabumda, spokesperson for the Limpopo ANC Youth League which still backs Malema, told Reuters.
Malema was expelled by the ruling African National Congress in April for causing rifts in the party, but has kept up his anti-Zuma tirades, saying the polygamist president should be removed since he pays more attention to his personal life than to running Africa's biggest economy.
His supporters see him as an eventual leader of the ANC but at 31 he is too young to replace Zuma at the head of the party that has governed South Africa for nearly two decades.
The Youth League's new leaders, who still back Malema, dismissed the charges as a politically motivated gambit to silence Zuma's most vocal critic.
“State institutions must never be used to settle political scores because that will plunge the country into a banana republic and confirms our view that we are becoming a police state,” they said in a statement.
The ANC establishment has condemned Malema as an opportunist but has remained mostly silent on the court case.
Malema stormed back from the political wilderness in August, blaming Zuma's administration for the police killing of 34 strikers at a platinum mine - the deadliest security incident since the end of white-minority rule.
Malema rose from poverty with populist calls to seize white-owned farmland and for a government takeover of crucial sectors of Africa's largest economy.
Calling himself an “economic freedom fighter”, he has revived a call for nationalisation of the mines, an option shunned so far by the government because it would bankrupt the country. However, the debate unnerves investors as the industry accounts for six percent of national economic output.
With a penchant for expensive cars, Swiss watches and parties, Malema has been under investigation by the police's elite Hawks detective division for alleged corruption relating to government contracts in Limpopo.
Malema has also been given a bill for nearly $2-million for unpaid taxes, the South African Revenue Service said at the weekend. - Reuters