By Peroshni Govender
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African court on Monday ruled that ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema was guilty of uttering hate speech for singing an apartheid-era song that called for the killing of white farmers.
The verdict against Malema, one of the country's most prominent politicians, comes as he is fighting for his political survival in a separate disciplinary case brought by the ruling African National Congress, which has charged him with bringing the party into disrepute.
"I find the words uttered by Malema constitute hate speech," said Judge Collin Lamont.
Malema was ordered to pay some of the court costs in the civil case that did not carry a criminal penalty. Malema, 30, was not in court when the decision was read out.
Malema was shown on TV singing the song "Shoot the Boer" at a number of public events last year.
His regular calls to nationalise mines and seize white-owned land has unnerved investors but struck a chord with poor blacks who also see him as a future leader of Africa's biggest economy.
The case was brought to the South Gauteng High Court by the Afrikaner civil rights group Afriforum, which said white farmers felt threatened by the song's lyrics.
Judge Lamont said words were "powerful weapons" and ordered Malema and the ANC to stop singing the song in public or private. The ANC has argued the song was a part of the historical struggle against oppressive white regimes and should not be banned.
Analysts said the civil case would not have serious political implications for Malema and could even strengthen his support among the country's poor black majority who have seen little improvement in their economic fortunes after apartheid ended.
"Malema's die-hard supporters don't care about the courts and not much will change in the ANC. It makes no difference to those intent on disciplining him," said Prince Mashele, executive director of the Center for Politics and Research.
Malema, the son a former maid, is facing a criminal investigation over his finances. He has often rallied against the country's white minority, whom he accuses of being criminals.
The ANC's disciplinary hearing against Malema meets again on Tuesday. If he is found guilty, he could be suspended or expelled from the party that dominates the country's politics.
"There are people in the ANC like President Jacob Zuma who see him as thorn in their flesh so they would want him punished harshly," said Mashele.
Malema, a power-broker who once said he would "kill" for Zuma, has now fallen out with the president.
The hearing is a high-stakes gamble for both Zuma and Malema. If Malema is exonerated, Zuma could be fighting for political survival as Zuma's foes court the youth leader in their bids for power.
(Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Andrew Heavens)