Polokwane - ANC renegade Julius Malema was charged with
money-laundering on Wednesday in a high-profile corruption court case his
supporters say is part of a political plot to silence the fierce critic of
President Jacob Zuma.
Prosecutors at the provincial magistrates’ court in
Polokwane, 350 km north of Johannesburg, said Malema had “improperly received”
R4.2m in a conspiracy involving government tenders.
But they did not file any other charges, contrary to media
reports that he also faced trial for fraud and corruption.
Scores of police deployed razor wire to block more than 1
000 Malema supporters from entering the police station and court in Polokwane,
the capital of Malema’s native Limpopo province.
The trial of Malema, who has backed wildcat miners’ strikes
and has been pushing for nationalisation of the mines, is seen as one of the
biggest since apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela’s ANC took power in 1994.
The 31-year-old, who appeared in a grey suit and white
shirt, was ordered released on bail of R10 000 after a 10-minute hearing.
Malema, ousted as leader of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in April
for ill-discipline, has returned from the political wilderness with a vengeance
in the past several weeks, stepping up public criticism against Zuma and the
The ANC rebel had been under investigation for months for
suspected corruption, fraud and money-laundering relating to government
contracts his political allies secured in Limpopo - a province where the
Treasury says hundreds of millions of rands go missing each year due to suspected
His penchant for luxury cars, flashy Swiss watches and
champagne parties has also attracted the attention of the South African Revenue
Service, which said at the weekend he owed near R16m in unpaid taxes.
Supporters denounce "abuse of power"
Malema has blamed Zuma’s government for police shooting dead
34 striking platinum miners on August 16 at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in the
deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid.
“This case is an abuse of power by Zuma against Malema,” supporter
Sonett Masemola told Reuters outside the court.
Malema’s backers held a raucous vigil on Tuesday night. Many
said he was being brought to trial to sideline him ahead of an ANC leadership
vote in December where Zuma is seeking re-election as head of the dominant
party in South Africa.
“He gets more support than President Zuma because he is more
in touch with the people and more intelligent,” said Luterdo Mothurwane,
dressed in ANCYL garb.
Zuma’s “man of the people” image took a knock during the
government’s sluggish response to the Marikana shootings, with Malema emerging
as the head of an “Anyone But Zuma” campaign seeking to remove the president in
Malema used the mine shooting to pillory Zuma, saying the
polygamous president spent more time dealing with his personal life than the
poverty and inequality that blights Africa’s biggest economy 18 years after the
end of white-minority rule.
He has also revived calls for the state to take over the
mines, a sector that accounts for about 6% of gross domestic product. The government has dismissed
the idea, saying it would bankrupt the country.
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