By Ella Smook

ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema has turned down a challenge to publicly debate his DA counterpart, saying he won't spar with "Helen Zille's garden boys".

Malema issued the rebuff on Sunday night when asked by the Cape Argus whether he would enter the ring with DA youth leader Khume Ramulifho, who had dared Malema to debate him.

Ramulifho's challenge came after Malema, at a weekend rally in Durban's Cato Manor, reportedly labelled the DA leader a "racist", "colonialist" and "imperialist" and said her deputy Joe Seremane's role was "to smile at the madam".

Malema on Sunday night spurned the offer to face up to his opposition counterpart, saying, "There is no DA youth".

"The last time we had a DA youth was when they defected to the ANC. There is no DA youth in South Africa."

Malema said those posing as a DA youth body were in fact "the garden boys of Helen Zille".

"I only debate with serious political youth formations. Not a group of the racist Helen Zille's garden boys," he said.

Ramulifho said yesterday that in his latest rant, Malema had "bitten of more than he (can) chew".

"In classic Malema style, his ridiculous diatribe reveals more about his own inadequacies than it does about the intended victims of his attack."

Ramulifho had challenged Malema to a public debate where he said he would make it clear that it was "laughable for a political lightweight such as him to attack a figure of such moral authority as Joe Seremane", who had "made a greater contribution to the development of South Africa's democracy than Malema will ever be able to dream of".

Ramulifho said that not only had Seremane been imprisoned on Robben Island for his principled stance against apartheid, and paid the price by losing close relatives, he had taken the "courageous decision to serve on the opposition benches, so that he could protect South Africa against power abuses by the ANC".

Zille and Seremane were "giants in our political landscape", while Malema was "a minor political lightweight who is abusing his small perch to personally enrich himself and his cronies".

Venturing that it was unlikely that Malema would be able to articulate any issues of substance affecting young people, Ramulifho nevertheless said he hoped that Malema would rise to the challenge.

Also at the rally on Saturday, Malema was reported to have again called IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi "Mickey Mouse" and members of Cope "angryists" who "don't smile". But last night the ANCYL issued a statement denying that Malema had referred to Buthelezi as "Mickey Mouse".

"He instead said KwaZulu- Natal is home of the ANC and not of 'Mickey Mouse' political organisations," said Floyd Shivambu, ANCYL national spokesperson.