JOHANNESBURG (AA) – A high court in South Africa has postponed until August of next year the trial of outspoken opposition leader Julius Malema, who faces accusations of corruption.
The founder of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, which has 25 seats in the 400-member National Assembly, appeared in court in Polokwane, hundreds of kilometers from commercial capital Johannesburg.
Malema is accused, along with two business associates, of using “deceitful means” to win a government construction tender for nearly 52 million South African rand when he was a member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
The 33-year-old opposition leader insists that the charges are politically motivated and are aimed at barring him from holding political office.
“The man who must go before [parliament’s] disciplinary committee is [President] Jacob Zuma, who the public protector said benefitted unduly from state coffers,” South Africa’s ETV television channel quoted Malema as telling supporters after leaving the courtroom.
“Therefore, you must pay that money back,” he added, addressing Zuma.
Malema and fellow EFF lawmakers are set to appear before parliament’s disciplinary committee for forcing the National Assembly to adjourn its August session when they interrupted Zuma as he answered questions in parliament.
Chaos ensued when Malema – once a close ally of Zuma and an ANC youth leader – asked the president to pay back public funds used to upgrade his rural home.
In March, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela blamed Zuma for using public funds to renovate his country residence.
“The expenditure incurred by the state [for the renovations]… was unconscionable, excessive and caused a misappropriation of public funds,” Madonsela said in a 400-page report.
The upgrade of Zuma’s rural home was supposed to have cost the state some $2.5 million. But with lavish upgrades – including a swimming pool, cattle kraal and visitor’s center – total costs skyrocketed to $23 million.
Zuma has denied any involvement in the procurement and construction phases of the renovation and has adamantly refused to pay back the money.
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