JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- He's loud, controversial, charismatic and probably the most strident and effective critic of South African President Jacob Zuma. For more than a week, expelled ruling party youth leader Julius Malema has been predicting his own arrest, claiming South African authorities were trying to silence him politically.
Friday, his lawyer said the prediction has come true, confirming to local newspaper City Press that an arrest warrant for Malema had been issued on charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering.
"We have received confirmation from the authorities that there is an arrest warrant issued for Mr. Malema," Nicqui Galaktiou of Brian Kahn Attorneys told the newspaper.
Malema, whose support helped propel Zuma to leadership of the African National Congress in 2007, was thrown out of the party earlier this year after turning on Zuma for "sowing divisions."
He has denied wrongdoing and alleged a conspiracy against him by President Zuma and his allies.
"If we die tomorrow and anytime soon, we would have been killed by Jacob Zuma and his people," Malema told journalists Tuesday. "If we are illegally arrested tomorrow, we would have been arrested by Jacob Zuma."
Malema's power in South Africa stems from his ability to articulate the rage of unemployed youth and others living in dire poverty 18 years after Nelson Mandela's ANC took office. Malema's supporters claim there will be mass youth unrest if he is arrested.
In a sign of how deeply Malema's firebrand rhetoric unsettles South African authorities, Malema was prevented by police Monday from addressing striking platinum miners and was forced to leave the area -- a move criticized by civil society activists as heavy-handed and possibly unconstitutional.
Malema has long been deeply controversial, having been convicted of hate speech and banned by a court from singing his trademark song, "Shoot the Boer," a reference to shooting white farmers. He was forced by the ANC to take anger management lessons in 2010, after bellowing at a BBC reporter, calling him a spy and evicting him from a press conference.
Malema said at Tuesday's press conference that since he had won popular support, Zuma wanted him dead.
"Now that we continue to enjoy the confidence and trust of ordinary people on the ground, Jacob Zuma is agitating soldiers and the police to block our movements and even eliminate us from the surface of this land. A death warrant has been issued against economic freedom fighters for speaking on behalf of the people," he said.
As ANC youth leader, Malema amassed a personal fortune difficult to explain, given his modest salary. After he became stridently critical of Zuma's leadership last year, multiple investigations were launched into his business affairs.
The investigations also followed newspaper reports that a company associated with Malema was paid kickbacks for facilitating government tenders in Limpopo, his home province, where Malema is alleged to be close to the premier, Cassel Mathale. The three investigations were by the Hawks, a police unit specializing in corruption and organized crime, the tax department and an independent official, the public protector, who examines issues of accountability and corruption and has the power to request the issue of arrest warrants.
Malema has denied corruption.
South African politicians have a history of using law enforcement agencies to undermine rivals. Zuma's supporters, for example, claimed that past charges leveled against him were political. He beat a rape charge in 2006 and fraud and corruption charges against him were withdrawn by prosecutors weeks before South Africa's 2008 elections.
According to Friday's Mail and Guardian newspaper, Malema tried to short-circuit the arrest warrant by writing recently to the national director of public prosecutions and the Hawks commander, claiming a political plot to arrest and charge him.
Malema is at the center of a bid by ANC figures to oust Zuma at a party conference in December. Malema's only hope of being readmitted to the ANC would be if Zuma were voted out.
In some ways, he seems to be emulating Zuma, who used to be known as the comeback kid, after coming back from the political wilderness. Zuma's supporters unseated ANC leader Thabo Mbeki then toppled him from the presidency, leading to Zuma becoming president.
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-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: Expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema at a Sept. 12 meeting where he addressed soldiers from the South Africa National Defense Force (SANDF) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Credit: Kim Ludbrook / EPA