Prosecutors in South Africa said Thursday they had charged firebrand opposition politician Julius Malema under an apartheid-era law after he urged his supporters to occupy land illegally.
The National Prosecution Authority (NPA) said it had “decided to institute criminal prosecutions” against Malema on two counts for contravening anti-riot laws and incitement to trespass.
The charges arose from remarks Malema made two years ago and in June this year urging his supporters, most of them black and landless, to seize any land they wanted.
Malema’s leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has garnered growing public support by campaigning for South Africa’s deep inequality to be tackled through land expropriation.
Land reform is a key issue in the country, where much of the wealth remains in white hands 20 years after the end of apartheid.
“This is what the state does when it’s desperate,” Malema told a news conference after the charges were announced.
“All those who are seen to be opponents, they must be suppressed through state institutions.
“But with me they have met their match, I am not scared of anything.”
In June Malema told his supporters: “If you see a piece of land and you like it, don?t apologise, go and occupy that land. That land belongs to us.”
Founded in 2013, the EFF entered parliament the next year with 25 lawmakers, becoming the third largest party.
Prosecutors said they would not charge Malema with treason as demanded by the ruling ANC party, after he threatened a violent overthrow of the government, in an interview