A bench warrant was issued Monday for the arrest of Julius Malema, a fiery leader of one of South Africa’s main opposition parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The warrant was issued over Malema's failure to appear in court with a co-accused on charges related to the firing of a rifle in public.
Malema faced five charges following allegations that he discharged a firearm at an Eastern Cape political rally in 2018.
A video shared on social media purportedly shows him taking a semi-automatic rifle from another man and firing in the air at the 5th anniversary celebrations of EFF's founding, while celebrating with his supporters.
Malema and his co-accused Adriaan Snyman face charges for the incident at Sisa Dukashe Stadium in Mdantsane near East London in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
The East London Magistrate's Court issued the warrant after Malema's attorney offered an explanation which the court rejected.
During the hearing at which the accused's attendance was mandatory, the State was to hand over video evidence to the defence.
The politician responded to the development on social media, posting a cryptic image with no apparent direct reference to the case but which seemed to imply he was not concerned.
The warrant has, however, been stayed until Malema’s next court appearance on May 8.
Malema's lawyer, Ian Levitt, said that as such, it will not be executed.
Mr Levitt told the Nation that the entire episode was a “mockery” since his client reached an agreement when the matter was before the courts last November.
He said the agreement was that he would not have to appear again at pre-trial hearings pending setting of the trial date.
“The reasons for the agreement, which was reached by the bench, the prosecution and the defence, was that it takes enormous resources when a high-profile person appears in court and it costs our client a lot of money to fly up and down for brief pre-trial appearances,” the lawyer explained.
Footage of the incident, which surfaced on social media, appears to be the state’s main evidence.
Speaking about the issue when prosecutors first decided to proceed with the charges, he said: “No worries, that's my life – me and the establishment always fight [sic]."
The EFF has previously defended the politician, saying it was a “simulation act” and that he did not use a real firearm.
This is the second time in many weeks that a South African court has issued an arrest warrant for a senior politician in the country.
The previous bench warrant was for the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma, when he failed to appear in court on 783 counts of charges including fraud, racketeering, money-laundering and corruption, to do with SA’s notoriously corrupt late-1990s international arms deal.
Zuma was out of the country at the time of his non-appearance, ostensibly being treated in Cuba for an undisclosed “medical condition”.
He returned at the weekend to South Africa, receiving a hero’s welcome from several hundred supporters whom he told he was unafraid of the prospect of being sent to jail.
Zuma’s warrant was also withheld until his next appearance on his case on May 6.
Both Malema and Zuma have repeatedly and fiercely criticised the SA judiciary as being biased against them.