Julius Malema the accused ...

Expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema seems to have done some mental calculations. As with any criminal case involving large sums of money, his case is bound to be before the courts for several years. He has probably calculated that during this time, he has to fight and win a public perception war to remain a relevant political figure and a thorn in President Jacob Zuma's side.

Any normal citizen facing 16 counts of money laundering to the value of R4.6-million would know this is no parking fine which you can walk away from unscathed. The crime of money laundering carries a jail term of 15 years and/or a substantial fine.

But when prosecutors informed Malema that he would not be charged with corruption and fraud, as in the case of his five co-accused, Malema got the gap he was looking for to claim that this was a trumped up charge on a less serious offence. He was granted R10,000 bail for the Schedule 1 offence, while his business associate and co-accused Selby Manthatha, had to pay R40,000 bail. Four other people implicated in the matter, appeared in the same court on Tuesday on corruption and fraud charges, and also paid R40,000 bail.

In a statement released later, Malema said he had instructed his legal representatives to plead with the court to immediately proceed with the case "because I believe that I deserve an opportunity to present my side of the story and clear my name".

"For a considerable amount of time, the South African law enforcement agencies and media have been spreading rumours of my arrest therefore creating a dark cloud of suspicion of a possibility of illegality on my part. It can never be correct with an arrest warrant issued by the State, the prosecution can now ask for postponement for more than 60 days, delaying justice and denying me an opportunity to present my side of the story," Malema said.

It was "conclusively irresponsible" for the state to issue a warrant of arrest and take him to court "whilst they still cannot produce a docket to justify and offer basis on why I am charged and what I am expected to respond to," Malema said.

"The rushing of the charging seems to be inspired by other considerations than justice, because what is consequent of the route taken by the state is just creation on a dark cloud. It is very strange that some political leaders who are compromised and insisted that my arrest be expedited are the ones who should respond to more than 700 charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering with an almost 100% chance of conviction because the corruptor has already been convicted and sentenced to a prison term."

Addressing a crowd of supporters outside the court, Malema launched a fiery attack against Zuma, whom he claimed orchestrated his arrest.

"I've never been part of any criminal activity. I will never be part of any criminal activity… What you see is what you get," Malema said. "They are sent by Jacob Zuma because Jacob Zuma knows nothing, the illiterate Jacob Zuma."

"I'm unshaken. I'm not intimated by nonsense. I will continue the struggle for economic freedom," he said to cheers from the crowd.

Malema said that unlike Zuma he would not try to avoid trial but was ready to "answer every question" in court. "We are not like the head of state who runs away and calls for 'umshini wami' [my machine gun] to shoot the courts. We will bring our laptops and iPads to prepare our defence," he said.

But just like gatherings outside the courts when Zuma was an accused person morphed into campaign rallies for his presidency, Malema used the platform of his court appearance to de-campaign against the president. He called on his supporters to ensure that Zuma was not re-elected at the ANC's national conference in Mangaung in December.

"We must make sure Jacob Zuma does not become president of the ANC… The next day we must remove him as a president and the day after we must charge him."

Before Malema addressed his supporters, he shouted in praise of some ANC leaders, such as Kgalema Motlanthe and Fikile Mbalula, who he is campaigning to replace the current ANC leadership. He was accompanied by former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) secretary general Sindiso Magaqa, now leader of the lobby group Friends of the Youth League, and Floyd Shivambu, the youth league's former spokesman. A host of leaders from the ANCYL and the ANC in Limpopo, as well as officials from the provincial government attended the hearing to support Malema.

While there was no official reaction from the presidency, the ANC reacted swiftly to the accusations, taking exception to Malema's allegation that the charges were politically motivated.

"The African National Congress has noted with concern the accusation by the ANC in Limpopo and the ANC Youth League that state agencies are used to fight political battles in the wake of charges against Malema and others. We reject this accusation with contempt as it is misleading and seeking to undermine the rule of law and jurisprudence of the country.

"In their statement they have been quoted saying that there are 'clear indications that abuse of power by the state is again taking place in South Africa'. This suggests that the charges favoured against the expelled member of the ANC and four others are politically motivated. We want to appeal to our structures and to all South Africans to refrain from using inflammatory and unsubstantiated accusations against the ANC and the government agencies," ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.

He denied that Zuma or the ANC leadership had played any role in Malema being charged. "The charges have been preferred by competent institutions that derive from our Constitution. As the ANC we want to put it on record that we have confidence in our state institutions to discharge their duties without any political motive.

"We believe that these charges will be tested in the court of law given their competency and that anybody appearing in court has a right to defence. It is evident that anybody that suggests the abuse of state powers is trying to water down the implications inherent in the charges and prejudging the case before it has even started. It would therefore be a fundamental insult to our law enforcement agencies including our courts who are totally independent of government to be accused of being political pawns in the hands of politicians," Mthembu said.

He also told the SABC that any suggestion that Zuma was involved in the charges was "hogwash and a lot of nonsense" aimed at demonising "the good name of President Zuma".

Malema's next court appearance is on 30 November and will be another platform ahead of Mangaung for him to tear into Zuma and the state agencies. With the Farlam Commission of Inquiry beginning next week, Malema will no doubt have more ammunition to rip into the NPA and police based on their role in the events at Marikana.

The expressions of public support at Zuma's court cases built him a cult following on which his presidential campaign was built. Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi once called this an "unstoppable tsunami". Malema is now looking to create his own campaign wave, but with the sole purpose of destroying Zuma. On Thursday he continues his mining road show, this time at Impala Platinum Mine in Rustenburg, where he will continue to whip up workers in the sector as part of the "mining revolution".

With Zuma now days away from being officially nominated for a second term as ANC president, he cannot afford to get into messy scraps with the former ANCYL leader. But he will also not be able to allow Malema to stomp all over his campaign and continue to demean him. He will have to look for other methods to retaliate.

The charging of Malema now may or may not have been timed to shut him up before the Mangaung battle sets off in earnest. If it was, it was a spectacular miscalculation as it has unleashed his wrath and targeted it directly at Zuma. Perhaps this will have no effect on ANC delegates who will have to vote for their next president.

But as was witnessed at the ANC's Polokwane conference, the abuse of state power was one of the main reasons they deposed their last leader. Malema is on a mission to get history to repeat itself in so many ways.

This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.