JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A disciplinary hearing that could decide the political fate of South African firebrand Julius Malema has been postponed until October, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said.
Malema, leader of the ANC's youth wing and named this week by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful men in Africa, faces suspension or expulsion from the ruling party if found guilty on charges which include bringing the ANC into disrepute.
In a brief statement issued late on Saturday night, the ANC said proceedings had been put off until October 6 "due to the unavailability of the parties."
It did not elaborate or say which parties were unavailable but said Malema would call more witnesses at that time and that final arguments would be made on October 8.
Malema has rattled investors with his calls to nationalise mines and his declaration of "economic war" on the white minority that still controls much of Africa's largest economy.
The postponement is not a big surprise as the proceedings have been dragging on and members of the panel, such as chairman Derek Hanekom who is the deputy minister of science and technology, have other commitments.
But the delay may also give Malema valuable time to marshal more support both on the stand and behind the scenes.
The Sunday World newspaper reported that Malema had managed to get ANC veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of party icon Nelson Mandela, to be one of his witnesses. A divisive figure within the party, she still commands a strong following among the ANC's base of poor blacks.
The ANC disciplinary committee hearing is a high stakes gamble for Malema, who could see his political career derailed, as well as for President Jacob Zuma, who could face trouble if his adversary and party power-broker Malema is exonerated.
Malema, whose populist policies resonate with the poor black majority, once said he would "kill" for Zuma.
But he now seems intent on ousting him in favour of ANC stalwarts who will support his drastic economic vision for South Africa that includes seizing white-owned farmland.
Malema is facing a separate police investigation into his finances including a suspected slush fund used to pay for a lavish lifestyle.
(Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender, editing by Rosalind Russell)