EFF leader Julius Malema on Sunday celebrated the release of the party’s North West secretary Papiki Babuile, who was acquitted of murder last month after spending two years in jail.

Babuile along with eight others were convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 12 years for conspiracy to commit murder and the murder of ANC Dr Kenneth Kaunda regional secretary David Chika.

Chika was killed in December 2012, shortly before the ANC’s 53rd national elective conference in Mangaung.

Babuile was an ANC Youth League chairperson at the time.

Addressing a crowd of EFF supporters in Klerksdorp, Malema, who was also celebrating his birthday, said: “They’re not criminals. They are leaders who were made to pay for a crime they did not commit.”

His comments and speech were posted on the EFF’s official Twitter account.

“We must be good neighbours and take care of our own. The witches are brought to shame today.”

Malema blamed Babuile’s conviction on a judge that followed “societal expectation”.

“We have always maintained that Papiki is innocent. We stood by him and decided to not give up,” Malema said.

“Many people rot in jail for wrong reasons because they [can’t] afford quality lawyers.”

Malema blamed the ANC for the death of Chika.

“In the EFF we don’t have people who disrespect human life,” he said.

“When they convicted them they were trying to hide the true murderers. Those who killed are in the ANC.

“Their families were almost broken for [a wrongful] conviction. This is why the state must pay. We will sue them.”

Malema ended his speech by encouraging the crowd to educate themselves to ensure they don’t get exploited.

“It is education that will ensure that you don’t get exploited,” he said.