ANC Youth Leauge President Julius Malema. Photo: Mujahid Safodien

ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema has been accused of racism and could face further court action after his statements about white people being “criminals”.

Malema told an ANC rally in Kimberley at the weekend that white people should be treated as “criminals” for “stealing” land from black people.

Opposition parties also criticised President Jacob Zuma for not rebuking Malema despite the statements being made in his presence. On Sunday, the ANC defended Malema, saying he could have been referring to the Natives’ Land Act of 1913 “which, when it was passed, was not negotiated but land was taken from black people by force”.

The act decreed that only certain areas, comprising just 7 percent of the country, could be owned by blacks.

The Freedom Front Plus and AfriForum said thatr they would study the statements attributed to Malema and see if there were grounds for legal action.

AfriForum, which has already taken Malema to court for singing the Shoot the Boer song, Dubul’ iBhunu, claiming it constituted hate speech, would take Malema to court again over his latest statements if this was justified, it said.

Pieter Groenewald of the FF+ accused Malema of “acting like a criminal, being racist” and said he “obviously hates white people”.

Both Groenewald and Kriel said they were disturbed by Zuma’s silence on Malema’s statements.

“The fact that President Zuma didn’t step in is a slap in the face of all South Africans who respect the constitution,” Kriel said.

Cope also weighed in, describing Malema’s statements as “outrageous for a number of reasons”.

“It’s very easy to say these things, but very difficult to undo the damage,” said Cope’s national spokesman, Phillip Dexter. The DA declined to comment.

The ANC’s Keith Khoza said Malema’s statements should be seen in light of the advocacy role of the youth league. “They’ve been advocating for certain policy actions, including in mining,” he said.

The ANC was operating on the basis of a legislated land reform programme and there was no policy shift by the party.

Asked to comment specifically on whether referring to white people as criminals was appropriate, Khoza responded: “Our understanding was that Julius was referring to the 1913 Land Act, which, when it was passed, was not negotiated, but land was taken by force.” - Political Bureau