A South African court on Friday postponed a corruption case against former African National Congress (ANC) firebrand Julius Malema, as the state added racketeering to the list of criminal charges against the fallen star of the ruling party.
Magistrate Janine Ungerer postponed the case to April 23 next year.
The adjournment means the case will not be heard before a crunch ANC conference this month that could see South African President Jacob Zuma, Malema’s one-time-ally-turned-nemesis, face a leadership challenge.
“We plan to argue that there was political influence in charging Mr Malema. We are aware of a meeting that took place in Cape Town before he was charged,” Malema’s lawyer Andre Bezuidenhout told the court.
The firebrand, who was kicked out of the ANC earlier this year for sowing indiscipline in the ruling party, appeared before the Polokwane Regional Court accused of using his political clout to win public contracts through a complex pyramid of companies.
Malema and his associates are accused of lying and influence-peddling to win an infrastructure contract worth 52 million rand (US$5.84 million.)
He was initially charged with money laundering, which could result in up to 15 years in prison and a large fine.
Malema, formerly the leader of the ANC’s Youth League, has alleged he is being prosecuted as punishment for his dispute with Zuma.
Malema told his supporters outside court that he was unfazed by the additional charges of racketeering, insisting that his only crime was exposing a lack of leadership in the ruling party.
He also made his choice for the ANC leadership known.
“We must make sure that [South African Deputy President] Kgalema Motlanthe becomes president. In Mangaung we must not vote for a tribalist,” he said in an attack on Zuma.
Malema is one of post-apartheid South Africa’s most divisive figures, notorious for his racially charged statements and his calls to nationalize mines, and redistribute land and wealth to the black majority.