(Reuters) - South Africa's ANC youth rebel Julius Malema upped the stakes in his political wrangling with the ruling party on Sunday, saying he would challenge in court its decision to expel him.
The African National Congress expelled Malema from the party in February for violating party rules, causing rifts in the group and bringing the movement into disrepute.
"I said I would not go to court, but now I have decided to do so," Malema, the leader of ANC's youth wing told thousands of supporters at a rally at Nkowankowa stadium in his home province of Limpopo, according to the South African Press Association.
"I need no mandate and act as an individual whose rights have been violated."
Malema was joined on stage by his friend an ally, provincial premier Cassel Mathale, and South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
The gathering of the three men could be seen as a direct challenge to President Jacob Zuma who faces a re-election race for the head of the ANC at the end of this year.
Several members of the crowd wore t-shirts bearing Motlanthe's face and the slogan "Kgalema for President" although Motlanthe has asked his supporters not to idolise him.
The ANC also frowns upon open campaigning for party posts well ahead of the election.
So far Motlanthe has not said whether he will challenge Zuma for the job, but he has been backed by the Youth League and other heavyweights as a potential challenger.
The winner of the ANC race is almost certain to be nominated by the party for the 2014 presidential race, and given the ANC's stranglehold over politics, is likely to be South Africa's next president.
However, the ANC race is being drawn increasingly along geographic and tribal lines.
Zuma has strong support in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal and among Zulu, one of the country's biggest tribal groups. Motlanthe, Malema and Mathale have strong support in the central Limpopo province and among the Bapedi, a smaller tribal group.
Malema, one of the party's most powerful orators whose calls for radical transformation of Africa's biggest economy resonated with poor blacks, has been increasingly critical of Zuma and his removal would help clear a path for Zuma to win a second term as ANC leader.