Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula has blasted the political agendas and alleged abuse of state agencies in the expelled youth leader's case.
Mbalula has become the first member of President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet and the ANC's national working committee to claim openly that state resources are being used by a faction within the ANC to settle political scores against expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
Talking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Mbalula said he was concerned about the alleged leaking of confidential information by state law enforcement agencies in order to subject Malema to an apparent trial by the media and cast aspersions on him in the court of public opinion.
"It is unfair to want to project the outcome of the case against Malema outside court processes," said Mbalula. "If the organs of state act this way, they are undermining the rule of the law. These guys [Malema and his business partners] have not done anything indicating they want to undermine the rule of law.
"The way the South African Revenue Service [Sars] and the public protector acted in this case [amounts] to abuse of state resources. If you believe you have a strong case, then go to court. It is unjust and unfair [to leak the information to the media]."
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu denied abusing state agencies in the wake of charges being brought against Malema. "We reject this accusation with contempt as it is misleading and seeking to undermine the rule of law and jurisprudence of the country," he said.
Denying the allegations, public protector Thuli Madonsela said: "It is people with bad intentions who are saying that. Some of them are the ones who leak information to the media. However, I'm going to continue doing my job, as empowered by the Constitution."
Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay said the agency would not be drawn into "unsubstantiated allegations from third parties" with no involvement in Malema's tax affairs. "The issues between Julius Malema and Sars are issues between this institution and a taxpayer. Sars will not allow unfortunate public statements to distract it from doing its work … independently and with procedural fairness."
ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa was also reported to have said this week that Malema should be defended until he was found guilty.
Malema appeared before the Polokwane Regional Court on Wednesday and later addressed his supporters, saying he had nothing to fear and that he was charged with a relatively minor case of money laundering, adding that Zuma should also have his day in court.
Malema was released on R10 000 bail, and his co-accused, Selby Manthata, was granted R40 000 bail.
Mbalula said the strategy used by those opposed to leadership change at the ANC's Mangaung national conference was to coin phrases like "defending the revolution against tenderpreneurs". "I know these words were used by those who wanted to attack Julius. Who in the ANC is not in business, or benefits from business? Who said ANC members must not benefit from business?
"The only thing we are saying is: they must not be involved in corruption. It's convenient for people to blame a particular group. If people are legitimate, they must not fear change," said Mbalula.
Abusing state resources
An ANC provincial secretary, who did not want to be identified, told the M&G that Zuma was abusing state resources to campaign for his re-election, and that Malema was a victim of a politically motivated court case because he had called for Zuma's removal in Mangaung.
In the run-up to the ANC's Polokwane conference, Zuma and his supporters accused former president Thabo Mbeki of unleashing state agencies in a bid to thwart Zuma's chances of challenging him.
"We are raising the issue [of the abuse of state agencies] because of justice and the rule of law," said the provincial secretary. "If it is committed against Julius Malema, it will be used against all of us in future. The reality is that the Julius Malema script in 2012 is similar to the Jacob Zuma script in 2007.
"It was clear in court that the prosecutors were under pressure to press charges against Malema before nominations begin in a week's time. This is to peddle lies before the branches that they are defending the ANC against tenderpreneurs. They are very weak politically and are in panic mode."
A senior ANC Gauteng leader, who also wished to remain anonymous, claimed that the pursuit of Malema was a clear sign that state agencies are being used to settle political scores, as was the case under Mbeki.
"There is no even-handedness in dealing with comrades [accused of corruption]," he added. "The fraud and corruption case against Zuma's ardent supporters Peggy Nkonyeni and Mike Mabuyakhulu was withdrawn under controversial circumstances. Rules are not being applied consistently. If you're in favour of [a Zuma] second term you are protected, but if you're against a second term and advocating for change you're hounded and intimidated."
Meanwhile, Malema's defence team raised with magistrate Janine Ungerer the possibility of gaining access to the police docket earlier than his next court date on November 30. However, the M&G understands that this is unlikely as the investigation is far from complete, lending credence to speculation that the timing of the charges is politically motivated, with the ANC's elective conference scheduled for December. – With reporting by Niren Tolsi