Just hours after Julius Malema handed over his bail payment and strode out of the court that began hearing money laundering charges against him yesterday, the African National Congress found itself on the back foot, angrily denying that it is abusing the justice system to pursue its former youth leader.
Outside Polokwane regional court, in his native Limpopo province, the former president of the ANC Youth League told 1,000 cheering supporters that he had nothing to hide and called for the removal of President Jacob Zuma. Claiming to be the victim of a political conspiracy, he said in a statement: "I am aware that senior government officials have agitated law enforcement authorities as a means of trying to silence and disrupt the political activities I am involved in."
Jackson Mthembu, spokesman for the ANC, angrily denied the accusation. "We want to state categorically that the ANC, its President Comrade Jacob Zuma and its leadership have no role in the charges. We reject this accusation with contempt," he said.
Mr Malema, 31, an erstwhile supporter of President Zuma, was thrown out of the ANC in April. He returned to prominence during the bloody Marikana platinum mine strike last month, upstaging President Zuma with populist rhetoric including calls for a general strike.
The timing of the money-laundering charge, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years' imprisonment, has lent credence to Mr Malema's claim of political interference. It comes just after the Marikana crisis and one week before nominations open for a crucial party conference in December at which President Zuma is expected to run for a second term as head of the party and thus – barring internal upsets – its candidate at the 2014 general election.
Allegations about Mr Malema's finances, including an unpaid tax bill reportedly running to 16m Rand (£1.2m), have been regularly leaked to the South African media for more than two years. The money-laundering charge is the result of an investigation by an elite police unit called the Hawks.
According to court papers, the Hawks have established a link between Mr Malema and On-Point Engineers, which misrepresented itself in winning a 52m Rands (£3.9m) roads tender from the Limpopo provincial government. Four On-Point directors appeared in court on Tuesday and were granted 40,000 Rands (£3,000) bail each. The court papers say that in return for using his influence, Mr Malema received kick-backs from On-Point which he used to buy a farm.
The case is due to resume at the end of November.