Reuters International

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema (C) waits to address supporters before a march to South Africa's constitutional court in Johannesburg, February 9, 2016. REUTERS/Sydney Seshibedi

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CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African police are investigating opposition leader Julius Malema for "inflammatory" speech after the politician threatened to remove President Jacob Zuma's government through the "barrel of a gun", a cabinet minister said on Tuesday.

Malema, the leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party told Al Jazeera television on Sunday that his party's protest marches were often met with violent resistance by security forces and that members of his party would run out of patience and take up arms.

"We have noted with serious concern, reckless and inflammatory statements that have been ascribed to leaders of some political parties," Police Minister Nathi Nhleko told reporters.

He confirmed a case had been lodged against Malema at the Hillbrow police station in Johannesburg and that the Hawks elite police unit were investigating.

"It is only an investigative process that will eventually lead to a point of categorisation in terms of whether it is high treason or constituted under crimes against the state," he said.

Malema, a former leader of the African National Congress Youth League who fell out of favour with Zuma, has led a public campaign dubbed "pay back the money" against the president, demanding that he pay back some of the money spent to upgrade the president's rural Nkandla home.

Earlier this month, Zuma survived an impeachment vote after the Constitutional Court said he breached the law by ignoring an order to repay some of the $16 million in state funds spent on renovating his home.

Malema, who promotes the nationalisation of mines and banks, is ratcheting up the rhetoric ahead of local elections in August, where Zuma and the ANC could face a tough test.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by James Macharia)

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