Instead, he used the opportunity to once again launch direct and indirect broadsides against President Jacob Zuma, homing in on the government's pattern of dishonouring court directives, in an attack on the ANC, from which the firebrand leader has been expelled.
The soldiers gathered to hear Malema address their worries over being placed on special leave following a violent strike – despite court action in their favour.
"You have been winning court cases but the government is not prepared to listen to the courts," said Malema, who was flanked by his spokesperson Floyd Shivambu and suspended youth league secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.
Malema told soldiers that South Africa was a "banana republic" that does not follow the rule of law.
"No one is above the law, not the military, not the presidency and not Parliament. Every court decision must be respected," Malema told over 100 soldiers in civilian dress at the Lenasia Recreation Centre, south of Johannesburg.
"We must respect the courts but the leadership of this banana republic disrespects the courts."
He referenced the Democratic Alliance's (DA) battle to get hold of the transcripts of the controversial "spy tapes", which the National Prosecuting Authority had claimed were the basis of its decision not to prosecute President Jacob Zuma.
"We don't like the DA, we don't like Helen Zille," said Malema. "But she has won a court case which gave them 14 days. Now [it's] almost a year and they are not complying with that court order."
Contempt of court
The DA has lodged a court application against the NPA for being in contempt of court after refusing to hand over a record of its decision relating to the dropping of corruption charges against Zuma.
Malema continued to build a careful case against the government and particularly Zuma as its head, pointing out the legality of his challenge at every step.
"We will never engage in any mutiny," he shouted to an enthusiastic audience. "Yes, we admit we don't like the current leadership but we will use democratic methods to unseat them."
He went on to reference the education department's failure to meet a court injunction to get textbooks to Limpopo learners, effectively conflating his own internal disciplinary problems with the ANC and that of the soldiers' battle against the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as part of a larger struggle by citizens against the government.
SANDF members were placed on special leave after they staged an aggressive protest in Pretoria in 2009 over poor salaries and adverse working conditions. Tshwane police used rubber bullets and teargas to disperse around 1 000 soldiers after they trashed surrounding streets, damaged cars and set a military vehicle alight.
The department tried to institute disciplinary procedures against them but was interdicted from doing so by the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, after an application to halt the procedure by the South African National Defence Union (Sandu).
The department accused the soldiers of failing to obey orders, failing to dissociate themselves from a violent protest, mutiny, and scandalising the SANDF.
The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in the department's favour and the internal disciplinary proceedings began, but Sipho Swelinkomo, who spoke on behalf of striking soldiers, called the proceedings a "kangaroo court".
The Friends of the Youth League, a group formed shortly after Malema's expulsion from the ANC and ratified in April, claim SANDF soldiers invited the controversial youth leader to meet them in Lenasia on Wednesday.
'Cries and demands'
"The meeting and ultimate address is as a result of the pleas and requests the armed forces, soldiers of the SANDF, sent to [Malema] to come listen to and voice the military and soldiers' cries and demands," the group said.
Malema took his customary pot-shot at Zuma at the gathering, assuring his audience that soldiers were last on his list of priorities.
"I don't know what a priority is for him. Maybe getting married every year, he specialises in that one," he said to laughter. Then he turned serious, shouting about nurses, students, the poor and workers ignored in the meantime. "These are a symptom of a dictatorship," he said. He emphasised soldiers must stand up for the Constitution where it is being flouted.
The meeting is being convened even as a recently established SANDF commission sets out to deal with issues relating to the conditions of service for soldiers. A military ombud was also appointed shortly after the 2009 protests to deal with grievances.
In response, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula labelled the meeting "counter-revolutionary".
"There has been no permission granted by the command structures of the SANDF for any soldiers to participate in the proposed gathering. Any members who participate in such a meeting without proper permission will be subjected to the disciplinary code of the SANDF," she said.
Mapisa-Nqakula said instability could not be sown in the South African military.
"The SANDF is the last line of defence of both the sovereignty and integrity of the country and we cannot allow anyone to play political football with this institution. It is simply not going to be tolerated," she added.
The meeting follows Malema's latest calls on Tuesday to make South African mines ungovernable.
He visited the Gold Fields KDC mine in Carletonville where workers downed tools and called for a wage increase.
"If they don't hear our demands, we will strike for five days a month until they listen," he said.
Malema also used the occasion to say Zuma was preventing economic change in the mining sector.
His visit to KDC marked his fourth visit to a mine since the shooting of 34 workers at the hands of police at Lonmin platinum mine in the North West, following a protracted labour dispute that is still ongoing.
"The Marikana struggle must go to all the mines. R12 500 is a reality … We are going to the mines and spreading this revolution. Next week we are in Lephalale. The struggle continues, comrades," he said on Tuesday.
Malema has used his visits to Lonmin, the Grootvlei gold mine on the East Rand and Gold Fields' operations in Westonaria to call for a mining revolution, which he claims will lead to an overall political revolution in the country. Malema has been well received on each visit, with miners singing his praises and some even calling for him to be elected as president of the country.
All the while during his visits, Malema claims to be representing the ANC, and says his expulsion was affected by a faction within the ruling party.
It is understood he is canvassing support to be readmitted to the ANC at its elective conference in Mangaung this December.
Tantamount to mutiny
Meanwhile, the ANC in the Eastern Cape said on Wednesday that the role of Malema and his allies in recent violent strikes was tantamount to mutiny.
It was a serious threat to the country's peace, security, and stability, provincial ANC spokesperson Mlibo Qoboshiyane said.
The same went for moves by Malema and his allies to meet soldiers.
"With regards to his meeting with some of the members of the South African [National] Defence Force, we regard this as an attempt to venture into mutiny."
In South Africa, workers had the right to lodge grievances and embark on strikes, but these needed to be conducted within the ambit of the law, Qoboshiyane said.
The Eastern Cape ANC also wanted Malema to stop wearing clothes bearing the party logo because he was no longer a member of the ANC.
"When he appears on these international media platforms donning sartorial items with our logo, faces of our leaders, logos of our youth league, he damages the image, the reputation, and the dignity of the ANC domestically and abroad."
The South African Security Forces' Union (Sasfu) expressed distaste at Malema's visit to soldiers.
Union president Bhekinkosi Mvovo said: "As Sasfu, we are opposed to any opportunism by Malema and the so called Friends of the Youth League in exploiting the vulnerability of the soldiers".
Soldiers were vulnerable because their political leadership had failed to address their concerns.
"We therefore call upon the soldiers to be vigilant and not [to] allow [themselves] to be used by people who will not solve their plight."
Political leaders should heed the warning by responding to soldiers' concerns.
"… We want to send a warning to the political leadership to stop ignoring the plight of the soldiers and understand that the military leadership is demoralising the soldiers on [a] daily basis," Mvovo said.
DA spokesperson David Maynier said Malema was exploiting soldiers for political gain.
However, it should not be forgotten that the SANDF service commission had described as "slum-like" the conditions at the Doornkop/Lenz military base, where the soldiers Malema would meet were stationed.
Malema's visit to the soldiers threatened to undermine the constitutional imperative that the military remain politically neutral.
As such, Maynier said any soldier who attended Malema's address should be disciplined.
He said Mapisa-Nqakula was right to disapprove of Malema's intention to address the soldiers. – Additional reporting by Sapa