South African Julius Malema is a populist, an opportunist, or both, depending on whom you ask.
Donning his trademark beret, he taunts his way to the front pages with ferocious soundbites against the government.
And as his anti-government rhetoric grows, so do the headlines.
Expelled from the ruling party's youth leadership earlier this year, the political rebel is making a comeback. And he is using the labor conflict in the nation to spread his message.
Workers at Lonmin mine in the nation's northwest -- the world's third-largest platinum producer -- went on strike in August to demand higher pay. In the ensuing days, 44 people died as a result of the protests, including nearly three dozens shot by police in one day.
Fuming strikers, fueled by outrage over the deaths of their colleagues, reiterated their calls for higher pay. Unrest spread to nearby mines.
Malema stepped into the fray, calling for nationwide strikes and pushing his longterm message of nationalizing mines. He sang and danced with striking mine workers, and lashed out at the government for not doing enough to reach out to the masses.
"We continue to play that role to ensure that the working class in South Africa does not become leaderless because those who are charged with such a responsibility have taken leave from discharging such responsibility," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
But critics say his brash, populist message is all a show to push his political agenda.
"It's entirely methodical. He doesn't organize strikes. He just tries to feed of them," said Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Johannesburg.
"He reads in the newspapers that there's a strike, goes there and makes a speech. ... A loud young man trying to amass money by pretending that he's the voice of poor people. It's very sad."
However, some of the poor and the disenfranchised are buying into his message, some say.
"For many, Malema is the right man at the right time, championing the needs of those at the bottom end of the social ladder," said Ayo Johnson, director of ViewPoint Africa, which sells content on the continent to the media.
"He can rally a crowd and play to the international media. He is a firebrand that is in keeping with his bad boy, tough talking and macho man image. Never shy from the limelight, he relishes an opportunity to rebrand himself after many thought was his end."
Path to the ruling party
Malema, 31, is no stranger to controversy. His road to fame has been tempestuous.
The former youth leader was born in 1981 in Seshego, a segregated black township in South Africa. He was raised by a single mother, who was a domestic worker.
Malema joined the ruling African National Congress before he reached his teens. His job: to rip off posters of the opposition party from buildings.
He shot to the spotlight four years ago when he was picked as the youth wing leader of the party in a hotly contested vote.
Soon after, he was ruffling feathers.
He once slammed an international journalist, saying he has "white tendency." He called for regime change in neighboring Botswana.
He also demanded the nationalization of mines and the seizure of white-owned farms in South Africa, especially incendiary calls in a nation with a history of racial tensions.
And in 2010, he came under fire for singing an apartheid-era song that includes the words "kill the Boer," a reference to white farmers.
The party, accusing him of sowing division and hate speech, first suspended him, and then shot down his appeal, expelling him in April.
Now, Malema is the subject of a criminal investigation over allegations that he used his political position to influence government tenders. He has denied the allegations.