"I haven't said that he is right but I've said he has a right to raise issues. If we stop Malema you would say that apartheid has come back," Zuma told the Mail&Guardian.
People needed to differentiate between private views and policy, and neither Malema nor Zuma himself could declare policy by himself, he said in reference to Malema's continued insistence that mines should be nationalised.
Malema is currently facing hate speech charges laid at the SA Human Rights Commission for repeating an adaptation of a slogan coined by former league leader Peter Mokaba's slogan at the University of Johannesburg.
"People want us to shout him down. Why must we do that? Even the late youth league president [Peter Mokaba] used to sing 'One Farmer, One Bullet'. Even Madiba, who is today an icon, was one of the most vocal youth league [leaders]."