, JOHANNESBURG, Nov 18 – A South African court delayed the graft trial of high-profile ANC defector Julius Malema on Monday, opening the way for the firebrand ex-youth leader to challenge his former allies at 2014 elections.
Malema – who is facing a series of corruption-related charges including racketeering – appeared briefly in the Polokwane High Court, in the northern province of Limpopo.
At the hearing his trial was set for September 2014, a victory for Malema whose Economic Freedom Fighters hope to contest general elections expected in April next year.
He maintained that his charges were politically motivated and that his accusers were ” fighting political battles in court.”
“I did not steal from you. I don’t steal from the poor,” he told hundreds of supporters gathered outside the court.
Malema was once head of the ANC’s Youth League and was a rising star in the party.
He was a staunch ally of President Jacob Zuma but was last year expelled from the ANC for ill-discipline.
Malema has since become Zuma’s biggest critic and has publicly apologised for backing him.
His recently launched party hopes that, amid high unemployment and staggering wealth disparities, voters will lap up their populist message.
Malema has hit the ANC hard over corruption and called for the nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of white-owned land.
However he himself stands accused of arranging lucrative government contracts for cronies in return for kickbacks.
“They arrested me because they can’t match my thinking capacity,” Malema said.
He is charged with four of his business associates and faces up to 15 years in prison.
Some of his assets, including a farm and household goods, have been seized by the taxman to cover over $2 million (1.4 million euros) in unpaid taxes.