Whether or not former African National Congress (ANC) youth leader Julius Malema is really corrupt is an open question. But it's a pretty safe bet that the money-laundering charges he appeared in court to answer to today are timed to interrupt his rise as a political challenge to South Africa's President Jacob Zuma. How Malema and his growing army of passionate followers respond to the setback could inflame the already tense political atmosphere in South Africa.
Some analysts suggested Malema's expulsion last April as head of the ruling ANC's Youth League would politically marginalise him. But after deftly exploiting the recent police shootings of 34 striking miners in Marikana, the fiery Malema is positioning himself as the authentic defender of South Africa's poor.
His swaggering populism and provocative statements are appealing to many South Africans who feel the ANC leadership has forgotten its roots as a people's movement. But his lavish lifestyle, his demagogic approach to sensitive issues and his breezy dismissal of press inquiries into his shadowy financial affairs are red flags that South African voters should pay attention to before jumping on the Malema bandwagon.
Learn more: BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding says Malema's unlikely popularity conceals deeper issues in South Africa.
Sources: BBC, Avaaz, Christian Science Monitor, City Press