Firebrand Malema eyes poll challenge to ANC

South African firebrand Julius Malema launched a "radical left" political movement Thursday that could challenge his former allies in the African National Congress at next year's elections.

Lambasting the ruling ANC in a volley of political invective, Malema issued a populist call for voters to abandon his former comrades and back his "Economic Freedom Fighters".

Styled as "Commander in Chief", Malema said the group "should be a radical left, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement with an international outlook that should be contesting the elections."

While not explicitly launching a political party, Malema staked out a claim to lead the millions of black South Africans whose lives have not improved much since the end of white minority rule two decades ago.

"Our enemy number one is white monopoly capital," he said, vowing to expropriate land and nationalise mines without any compensation.

Malema, 32, had been head of the ANC's youth league, but was expelled from the party last year for ill-discipline.

Known for his extravagant lifestyle, he now faces charges of fraud and tax evasion and has already had his home and farm seized.

Malema's path ahead is strewn not only with legal obstacles, but also political pitfalls.

Amid widespread disgruntlement with the ANC the number of political parties hoping to take up their mantle has mushroomed.

In June, respected academic and anti-apartheid stalwart Mamphela Ramphele launched a new party hoping to steal the ANC's thunder.

The one-time partner of late black consciousness founder Steve Biko, Ramphele has been an outspoken critic of the government on a wide range of issues from education to corruption to health.

The opposition Democratic Alliance, long seen as a white-dominated party, has been stressing its anti-apartheid credentials in a bid to extend its rule of the Western Cape -- which includes Cape Town -- to other regions.

And former members of the ANC continue to make up the bulk of the Congress of the People (COPE), a party which won 30 seats at the 2009 elections.