JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's firebrand ex-youth leader Julius Malema has been charged with money laundering, which he said is a political move by his nemesis, President Jacob Zuma. He denied the charge and vowed to continue his quest to speak to South Africans who support him.
Malema appeared confident Wednesday as he addressed the crowd after he was charged with money laundering and posted bail of about $1,200 [10,000 rand] at a court in his home province of Limpopo.
Malema was charged in connection with a $6.5 million government contract awarded to a company partially owned by his family trust.
Dressed in a suit and politician’s bold red tie, the former head of the African National Congress [ANC] Youth League appeared ready to give a stump speech, not answer to criminal charges.
Those expecting an apology did not get it - one thing Malema has never been is contrite. The 31-year-old’s political career is littered with controversy and legal problems - and he has answered all of it with characteristic bravado.
Malema is a man without a post, and without a party. He was removed from his job and expelled from the ruling ANC earlier this year for disciplinary reasons. He has not stopped campaigning for himself, however, and is outspoken in his view of what South Africa needs.
Malema and his supporters maintain that the charges against him are political, and an attempt by the leadership to censure him after he challenged them by delivering a series of fiery speeches near the troubled Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. The mine was the site of a six-week violent wildcat strike that crippled industry and shocked the nation.
Constitutional scholar Pierre de Vos said the money laundering charge is a challenge for prosecutors. It requires them to show that Malema knew he was receiving money that was the product of illegal activity. That, he says, could be complicated.
De Vos, who teaches law at the University of Cape Town, also said that while it will not make a difference in the courtroom, the court of public opinion will care about Malema’s claim that the charges are political.
“One only can have suspicions, and obviously those suspicions would be that coming so shortly after Mr. Malema embarrassed the government with what he said in those speeches at the Marikana strike, in front of the strikers, the suspicions do arise that maybe there was some political pressure to prosecute him or there was some coaching from political sources that it wouldn’t be frowned upon if they prosecuted him, unlike other people who have not been prosecuted despite the fact of having serious accusations of corruption made against them,” said De Vos.
There is an interesting parallel here. In 2009, Zuma was charged with corruption just before his presidential run. The case was marred with errors and overshadowed by the timing. In the end charges were dropped just weeks before the poll.
Malema is due back in court Nov. 30, just ahead of a critical ANC conference in which the party will choose a leader to stand in 2014 elections. Zuma is the frontrunner.
Malema once famously said he would kill for Zuma. On Wednesday, on that court podium, he called the president “illiterate.”