The youth leader of South Africa's governing African National Congress never wanted to be dragged into court to defend his right to sing a song some whites find offensive, and says those who filed the suit are more concerned about his high profile than his singing, he testified Wednesday in his hate speech trial.
But, taking the stand for the first time more than a week into the trial, Julius Malema said Wednesday he now sees some benefit in proceedings that have been closely followed across South Africa.
Malema said the trial "has helped to shed some light," allowing him to explain why whites should not be offended when he sings "shoot the boer." His entire testimony was broadcast live across the country Wednesday.
"Boer" is Afrikaans _ the language of Dutch descendants known as Afrikaners _ for farmer, and sometimes is used as an insult for whites. Malema argued that in the song it is a metaphor for apartheid, and the call is to eliminate oppression, not kill individuals.
The appearance of the star witness drew special attention after days of testimony by politicians and criminologists, music experts and even a poet. The judge, Collin Lamont, intervened unusually often to engage with Malema, whom he called charismatic.
Those who expected fireworks from Malema, known for his fiery rhetoric, were for the most part disappointed. But Malema made no apologies for his reputation.
"I belong to a very radical and militant youth organization," he said. "If you are not militant, you run the risk of being irrelevant."
Dressed in a gray suit, V-neck sweater and open-necked shirt, he answered questions calmly if forcefully, even when pressed to say he was racist or inspired by violent hatred of whites _ propositions he steadfastly denied.
His followers include whites, and his enemy is apartheid and oppression, he said. He said he has used "boer" to refer to black police officers working for administrations set up under white rule and led by blacks despised as apartheid collaborators by activists like Malema.
AfriForum, which portrays itself as an advocate for Afrikaners, filed the suit to get a judge to declare Malema's singing of "shoot the boer" to be hate speech, which is prohibited under South African law. A hate speech designation could lead to criminal charges.
Afriforum says Afrikaners and Afrikaner farmers felt humiliated and degraded when they heard "Shoot the boer," and believed Malema sang it to "be harmful to or to incite harm against" whites.
During an exchange with Malema Wednesday, AfriForum's lawyer Martin Brassey proposed that if Malema would agree not to sing the song on occasions when it might provoke disquiet, AfriForum might drop the case. Brassey said he could even envision Malema singing the song as part of a history lesson for the residents of Orania, a South African town founded by whites who want to live separately from blacks.
Malema said barring him alone from singing the song when and where he chose was comparable to apartheid-era attempts to isolate leaders by putting them under house arrest or making it illegal for newspapers to quote them.
"I want to sing with my people," he said. "I want to sing and commemorate with my people without restrictions on me as an individual."
Malema accused AfriForum of targeting him to gain attention.
"You are not genuine," he said. "This is cheap politicking."
As he finished his testimony for the day, he said AfriForum leaders would use the break to speak to reporters, while he would speak to his followers.
"Now you can go to the photo opportunity," Malema said.