Mr Malema said that the government’s attempts to return land to black South Africans through negotiations with white farmers had failed, and called for Zimbabwe-style land seizures.
“We have to take the land without payment, because the whites took our land without paying and transformed them into game farms. The system of willing seller, willing buyer has failed,” he told a rally ahead of local elections.
“We all agree they stole the land. They are criminals, they should be treated like that.”
His comments will generate concern among South Africa’s white farmers ahead of May 18 elections in which the ANC is expected to lose ground.
Mr Malema, 30, is already facing a race hate trial for singing the protest song Shoot the Boer.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said: “It can’t be correct to generalise like that. It is not scientific or healing,” Mr Motlanthe said.
Theo de Jager, of AGRI SA which represents South Africa’s commercial farmers, said Mr Malema made no distinction between white settlers who came to South Africa 360 years ago and individual farmers today.
“If they say land has been stolen, they must show us a farmer who has not paid for his land,” he said.
“The worst thing that could happen for current landowners is that the governing party do so badly at the polls that they need to do irresponsible things to establish themselves.”
Professor Pieter Le Roux, Director of the Institute for Social Development at the University of the Western Cape, said Mr Malema would never have been given a platform by Nelson Mandela or Thabo Mbeki but is now a useful tool for the ANC to mobilise the radical youth.
“It’s for short-term political gain but does create long-term political concerns,” he said.