Profile: Julius Malema

Julius Malema during a news conference in Johannesburg on 29 August, 2011 Mr Malema's controversial statements have made him a hugely divisive figure

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In his short but stellar political career, South Africa's Julius Malema - the expelled leader of the governing African National Congress's (ANC) youth wing - has rarely been away from the limelight.

Mr Malema, 31, acquired the reputation of being a power broker in the party, playing a key role in President Jacob Zuma's ascent to power in the 2009 election.

But later he fell out of favour with Mr Zuma and the ANC took action against the fiery Mr Malema, resulting in his expulsion in 2012.

He has repeatedly offended large sections of society - from women's rights groups, to white farmers, to his own political bosses - and has often been accused of racism, sexism and hypocrisy.

His most strident critics see him as a dangerous rabble-rouser whose psuedo-communist rhetoric and inflammatory statements are designed to generate newspaper headlines.

But to his thousands of supporters, he is an inspirational orator whose aggressive focus on the rights of poor black South Africans makes him the rightful heir to the soul of the ANC - and the leadership of the country.

Some political commentators thought that he would sink into oblivion after his expulsion, like other popular leaders who have incurred the wrath of the ANC leadership.

But he has remained influential, exploiting the Marikana killings - where police shot dead 34 striking miners on 16 August 2012 - to strengthen his support.

Still pledging allegiance to the ANC, Mr Malema is campaigning for Mr Zuma's removal from office at the party's national conference in December, hoping that this will open the way for his readmission into the party.

'Kill for Zuma'

Born in 1981, Mr Malema was raised by his mother Flora, a domestic worker, in Seshego township in the northern Limpopo Province.

He says he joined the ANC's so-called Young Pioneers group at the age of nine, and was later trained in armed resistance in the years after Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

Malema supporters burn a party T-shirt with a portrait of South African President Jacob Zuma in downtown Johannesburg, 30 August 2011 Malema supporters recently burned T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Jacob Zuma

He learned how to make petrol bombs and put together firearms, according to reports.

His rise through the political ranks was rapid, becoming regional head of the Youth League at the age of 14 and gaining a foothold in the student movement, before eventually becoming national leader of the Congress of South African Students in 2001.

He has also made a lot of money through various business interests.

But it was his election as ANC Youth League leader in 2008 that made him a key player in national politics.

His earliest actions as leader were to noisily campaign for Mr Zuma to take over - first as ANC leader and later as president - telling a crowd of supporters that he would "kill for Zuma".

It was his close relationship with Mr Zuma that landed him in court for the first time when he suggested that a woman who accused Mr Zuma of rape had had a "nice time" because she had "requested breakfast and taxi money".

He was eventually found guilty of hate speech over the incident. Mr Zuma was acquitted of rape.

Business dealings

But Mr Malema's relationship with Mr Zuma has soured in recent years.

He has been hauled before party disciplinary committees on two occasions. First he was fined and ordered to undergo anger management, and later expelled for bringing the party into disrepute.

He made international headlines in early 2010 when he sang an apartheid-era protest song that features the words "shoot the Boer [white farmer]".

The following year, a court ruled that the song amounted to hate speech - a decision that Mr Malema rejected.

He said it showed that apartheid-era judges still wield enormous influence in South Africa, and the government needed to speed up the transformation of the judiciary.

Mr Malema has also been forced to defend himself from accusations of making millions from state contracts for firms with which he was involved in his home province, Limpopo.

He has said that he instructed his lawyers to resign his positions in all of his companies in 2008, although he admitted he had never actually checked whether his orders had been carried out.

After a tumultuous first term in office at the youth league - when he argued for radical policies such as the nationalisation of mines and the seizure of white-owned farms - he was re-elected for a second term in June 2011.

His supporters still adore him and he is proving he has lost none of his ability to stir up controversy.

In 2011, he called for regime change, through "democratic means", in Botswana, calling it a "puppet" of the US and a danger to the rest of Africa.

He apologised, but the speech landed him in front of another ANC disciplinary hearing.

That hearing saw Mr Malema's supporters burning T-shirts with the face of Mr Zuma, the man for whom he had said he would kill.

After Mr Malema and his colleagues stormed a meeting of ANC leaders chaired by Mr Zuma, additional charges of breach of discipline were brought against him.

After months of legal and political wrangling, the ANC disciplinary committee finally suspended Mr Malema for five years for bringing the ANC into disrepute. He appealed, but, instead of being handed a lighter sentence, the committee ruled to expel him.

Some analysts believe that by acting against Mr Malema, Mr Zuma believed that he was removing a key opponent as he seeks re-election as ANC leader in December.

Mr Malema is also being investigated by state agencies on charges related to corruption and tax evasion.

He has dismissed the investigation as an attempt to destroy his political career, and says he is not scared of being arrested.

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