JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Firebrand activist Julius Malema traded his usual revolutionary beret and T-shirt for a crisp business suit Wednesday when he appeared in a South African court to face charges of money laundering.
Malema, tossed out of the ruling African National Congress in April for sowing divisions, is accused of receiving in a family trust about $500,000 tied to fraudulent government tenders. He appeared in a court in Polokwane, capital of Limpopo, his home province.
He denied the charges and was freed on $1,250 bail. Outside the court he claimed the charges against him were pushed by senior government officials and mounted a virulent attack against South African President Jacob Zuma, a man he helped propel to the leadership of the ANC.
Malema called Zuma the illiterate leader of a banana republic and said Zuma had been charged on 700 counts of corruption and fraud, compared with only one count against him. The charges against Zuma were dropped by prosecutors just weeks before the 2008 election, won by the ANC.
Malema, the former ANC Youth League leader who articulates popular anger among poor blacks against Zuma and the ruling party, has managed to revive his profile in recent weeks. He attacked the government after police shot to death 34 platinum miners, and he called on other workers to make the mining industry ungovernable. He also caused ripples when he met with soldiers recently. He plans to meet Thursday with miners in Rustenburg, the main city in the platinum belt.
"Attempts to silence our political activities and involvement will never succeed because we carry a revolutionary obligation to speak on behalf of the oppressed and downtrodden masses," he said outside the court Wednesday, according to news agencies.
Four Malema business associates appeared in court Tuesday charged with fraud and corruption involving a $6.5-million government roads contract won by the On Point Engineering company, in which Malema's family trust holds an interest.
Malema is also under pressure from tax authorities who last week demanded payment of $2 million in taxes and penalties, local media reported.
Although he helped propel Zuma to power, he later turned against against the president and is at the center of efforts to oust him as ANC leader at a party conference in December — Malema's only hope of readmission to the party.
"We must make sure Jacob Zuma does not become president of the ANC," he said Wednesday, referring to the December conference. "Remove him as a president."
A spokesman for the ANC rejected Malema's claim that the charges were political, as did a spokesman for the Hawks, a police unit specializing in fraud and organized crime which brought the charges against Malema.
— Robyn Dixon
Photo: Former African National Congress Youth League President Julius Malema addresses supporters Wednesday after being granted bail on a charge of money laundering in Polokwane, South Africa. Credit: T.J. Lemon / European Pressphoto Agency.