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South Africa's firebrand Julius Malema in court over alleged money laundering

Stephane De Sakutin / AFP - Getty Images

South African populist firebrand Julius Malema, a former leader of the African National Congress' Youth League, smiles as he arrives in court on Wednesday.

POLOKWANE, South Africa -- Firebrand South African politician Julius Malema appeared in a regional court Wednesday on a charge of money laundering in connection with a $6.5 million government contract awarded to a company his family trust partly owns.

Malema appeared in a police station in Polokwane, in South Africa's northeast, before entering the regional court. People started cheering when he entered the courtroom.

Large crowds of supporters also gathered around the police station and court, chanting his name. Vigils were held through the night for him, where supporters sang songs against South Africa's president. Malema was granted bail of $1,250 by the court and his next court date is Nov. 30.

Malema says charges are politically motivated at a time when he's become outspoken about the labor unrest in South Africa's mining industry and says they are meant to shut him up after he threatened to make the mines ungovernable.

Malema was expelled from the ruling African National Congress party earlier this year for sowing disunity.

Julius Malema, the South African politician blamed for inflaming the miners' strikes, there told NBC News that the treatment of the poor is worse now than it was under apartheid. NBC's Rohit Kachroo reports.

In an interview with NBC News’ Rohit Kachroo earlier this month, Malema said the mineworkers were “prepared to die” over the dispute.

“They will never kill all the mineworkers. It is not practically possible unless they are prepared to face charges of genocide,” Malema added. “For every revolution there are casualties. ... We lost many great people during the apartheid struggle.”

Stephane De Sakutin / AFP - Getty Images

Supporters of Julius Malema, who claim the case against him is politically motivated, demonstrate near the courthouse on Wednesday.

He claims conditions for many black people are worse under democracy than they were under apartheid. “The gap between the rich and the poor has widened,” Malema told NBC News.

Voice of hate or hero? South Africa's downtrodden workers put faith in Malema

In a separate case, the South African Revenue Service is also charging Malema with unpaid taxes and interest of $2 million.

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View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa's first black president.

Malema's four business associates appeared in court Tuesday on charges including fraud, corruption and money laundering for the $6.5 million awarded to company On Point Engineering for road services in Limpopo province. They were granted a bail of $5,000 each.

'Murder on a massive scale': Angry fallout from S. Africa mine shootings

A draft of the charge sheet says benefited from the tender and used it to fund a farm that cost nearly $500,000 and to make a payment for a luxury car.

Last week, police surrounded Malema and threatened his arrest when he arrived at a stadium to address striking mine workers who were meeting to vote on a wage deal. Malema was forced to leave before addressing the crowd of thousands.

Nearly six weeks of strikes by workers at the platinum mine saw violence that killed 46 people.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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