JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African opposition firebrand Julius Malema told his followers on Monday to seize any piece of white-owned land they wanted, defying a court trying him on charges of inciting violent property grabs.
Malema addressed cheering members of his ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party near the courtroom in Bloemfontein, after a judge adjourned the politically charged hearing.
“When we leave here, you will see any beautiful piece of land, you like it, occupy it, it belongs to you… It is the land that was taken from us by white people by force through genocide,” he said.
Malema has rallied an enthusiastic band of backers through calls for the nationalisation of mines and the curbing of whites’ economic power, building on frustration over the slow pace of economic progress for many blacks since the end of apartheid.
His three-year-old party controls 25 of South African’s 400 parliamentary seats. But there have been signs of growing support since he stepped up criticism of his former mentor President Jacob Zuma, currently embroiled in a series of scandals.
The EFF emerged as electoral king maker in Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria at municipal elections in August, giving it a foothold that he has promised to expand in national elections in 2019.
Malema was appearing in the courtroom 400 km (250 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, to face charges of inciting his supporters to take over land during a party meeting in 2014.
He faced a similar charge last week of inciting trespass in the town of Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal province, but that trial was also postponed to let him file an application to the Constitutional Court to scrap an apartheid-era law.
After that trial, he called for land grabs “without compensation”, and added: “We are not calling for the slaughter of white people‚ at least for now” – drawing criticism from the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance party, which has many white supporters.
On Monday, he told his supporters: “I will never kill white people, why should I kill them? I will never revenge for what they did … I’m asking politely for the land to be returned.”
(Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Andrew Heavens)