Polokwane, South Africa (CNN) — A South African court charged Julius Malema with money laundering Wednesday, and the firebrand politician scoffed at the accusations and riled up his supporters moments after his release on bail.
The former youth leader went into an anti-government tirade after his release.
He said the charge against him is politically motivated by President Jacob Zuma.
Speaking into a microphone, Malema, who appeared without his trademark beret and donned a dark suit and burgundy tie for the hearing, addressed his raucous supporters near the court.
He belittled the allegations against him as minor, saying the president told authorities to “just arrest him for anything.”
Prosecutors accused him of unlawfully benefiting from proceeds generated by companies he had shares in. The 31-year-old, who was youth leader for the African National Congress, was thrown out of the ruling party this year. He has denied the allegation.
The court did not provide additional details of the charge against him because it is still finalizing the documents, it said.
The ruling party said the allegations are not politically motivated.
“The charges have been preferred by competent institutions that derive from our Constitution,” the party said in a statement. “We want to put it on record that we have confidence in our state institutions to discharge their duties without any political motive.”
Before the hearing, Malema’s supporters sang songs deriding the president outside the court in Polokwane. After an overnight vigil at a local hall, they waited for him outside the court, peeking behind razor wire amid heavy security that included riot police. Police closed roads leading to the court and deployed a water cannon to the scene.
“Hands off Malema,” placards outside the court read. “Malema will rule one day!”
Malema was freed on $1,215 bail and is scheduled to return to court on November 30.
Crimes in South Africa are categorized between schedule one and schedule five, the latter being the most serious. His alleged crime falls under schedule one, according to his lawyers.
Malema, once a major ally of the president, is now one of his fiercest critics. His populist rhetoric has made him a controversial figure in the nation and sparked outrage in the ruling party.
His supporters have said he is being persecuted for challenging Zuma’s leadership before a December vote for head of the powerful ruling party.
Malema’s brash, populist message resonates with some of the nation’s disenfranchised, who took to the streets in protest when he was ousted from the ruling party. The party, accusing him of sowing division and hate speech, first suspended him, then shot down his appeal and expelled him in April.
Zuma and Malema broke ties despite the latter’s role in propelling him to power in 2009. Malema was instrumental in the president’s election and campaigned across the nation on his behalf.
In recent years, he has accused his administration of intolerance and failure to improve the lives of the poor.
Malema has also called for nationwide strikes in the mining industry, dismaying politicians trying to quell labor discontent among workers.
His calls came after police killed 34 striking mine workers in August during the miners’ labor protests to demand higher pay. The killings — one of the deadliest attacks since the end of apartheid — sparked a firestorm in the nation.
Malema’s controversial road to fame includes his calls to seize white-owned farms in South Africa, especially incendiary in a nation with a history of racial tensions.
The self-described “economic freedom fighter” has renewed his calls for the nationalization of mines, unnerving potential investors.
Polokwane, which is north of Johannesburg, is the capital of Malema’s native Limpopo province.