Julius Malema, a South African political activist, has claimed innocence against charges that he laundered the proceeds of ill-gotten public contracts.
Malema was granted 10,000 rand ($1,250) bail after appearing in the Limpopo province regional court on Wednesday. More than one hundred supporters of the former African National Congress, ANC, youth leader danced behind a fence outside the court building.
He has been locked in a long-running feud with his former comrades in the ruling ANC party, and with its leader, President Jacob Zuma.
Using the strikes to attack his rivals within the party, Malema has called for the mines to be made “ungovernable”.
Violence during a strike at a mine in Marikana left 46 dead, 35 of whom were killed by police.
Police issued an arrest warrant for Malema, a former ANC Youth League leader, on Friday shortly after he seized on unrest at South Africa’s mines to launch political attacks against Zuma.
Four of his business associates appeared in court on Tuesday on charges including fraud, corruption and money laundering for a 52 million rand ($6.5m) contract awarded to the company On Point Engineering for road services in Limpopo, Malema’s home province.
|Malema is locked in a long-running feud with his former comrades in the ruling ANC party and its leader, President Zuma [AFP]|
They pleaded not guilty and were granted a bail of 40,000 rand ($5,000) each. The case was postponed to November 28.
The charges against Malema and his business colleagues detail a complex pyramid of companies accused of lying and influence-peddling to gain an infrastructure contract in Limpopo, worth 52 million rand ($6.3m).
The proceeds are alleged to have been used to help buy Malema a Mercedes Benz Viano and a farm.
In the lead-up to Malema’s appearance in Polokwane, about 300km from Johannesburg, police beefed up security around the courthouse and announced road closures.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Polokwane on Wednesday, described the crowd as “defiant, cheerful and optimistic that Malema will be found innocent”.
Several hundred people had gathered for a vigil on Tuesday night in a local hall where supporters sang pro-Malema songs and criticised the criminal charges as a bid to silence him as he was a threat to Zuma.
With elections for the ANC’s top posts coming up before the year end, Malema has called for Zuma’s removal.
The party expelled him in April for ill-discipline and after he was convicted of hate speech in a civil case last year.
Further compounding Malema’s woes, he is the subject of a separate tax investigation.
The country’s revenue service told AFP news agency on Tuesday it had been granted an order to recover back taxes Malema allegedly owes.
The authority said Malema owed at least “16 million rand ($2m)”, Marika Muller, spokeswoman, said.
The ANC’s Youth League has been highly influential in South African politics, acting as a crucible for the careers of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo.
Despite his pro-poor stance, Malema’s love of luxury has raised eyebrows.
He is a lover of designer clothes and fast cars, lives in an upmarket Johannesburg suburb, and owns a Breitling watch worth about 250,000 rand ($32,000).