By John Mkhize
POLOKWANE, South Africa (Reuters) - A South African court on Monday postponed a corruption case against politician Julius Malema until late next year, removing a potential obstacle to the vocal critic of President Jacob Zuma standing in elections against his former party.
Malema, who led the ruling ANC's youth wing until his expulsion last year, appeared at a high court in Polokwane, the capital of his home province of Limpopo, along with four others to face graft charges over state contracts.
The 32-year-old told a few thousand of his jubilant red-clad supporters outside the court that the case had been postponed until October 2014, well after elections expected in late April.
One of South Africa's most charismatic politicians, Malema was dressed in a suit and a crimson tie instead of his usual red T-shirt and Che Guevara-style beret.
Amidst tight security and barbed wire, his supporters chanted slogans against Zuma and the "government of the rich". He will be appearing in court next week in an attempt to get the charges dropped.
While the postponement is likely to be seen as a major victory for Malema, he still faces an investigation by tax authorities.
His ultra-left party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), is just a little over 100 days old, but has been recruiting aggressively in townships and shanty towns, targeting the millions of young South Africans disaffected by the slow pace of change two decades after the end of apartheid.
Although it is impossible to know how well the EFF will fare in the elections - some analysts expect it could take 5 percent of the vote - its success will come at the expense of the ANC, which won two-thirds of the vote in the last election in 2009.
South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is still seen by much of the country's black majority as the party of white privilege.
The EFF's populist message of expropriation of land and nationalization of mines and banks has resonated with many young blacks in a country where unemployment is still above 25 percent and there are widespread perceptions of inefficiency and corruption about the ANC, which has ruled since end of apartheid in 1994.
(Writing by David Dolan; editing by Ralph Boulton)