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South African court jails 20 over coup conspiracy, Mandela murder plot

A South African court has sentenced the mastermind behind a plot to kill former South African President Nelson mandela to 35 years in jail. The plan was part of a wider white supremacist conspiracy.

The High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday sentenced members of a white extremist group to jail sentences of between five and 35 years.

The 20 members of the Afrikaner extremist group Boeremag, meaning white farmer force - a reference to South Africa's Dutch colonizers the Boers - were all found guilty last year of treason. The group had been accused of plotting during the late 1990s until 2002 to overthrow the country's post-apartheid government by force.

The heaviest sentence went to Mike du Toit, ringleader of Boeremag, and the four of his co-defendants who were convicted of conspiracy to murder former President Nelson Mandela. The five were handed a 35-year prison term.

Judge Eben Jordaan sentenced the rest of the defendants to between five and 30 years.

Jordaan said that, had he not been flown by helicopter to open a rural school in the northern Limpopo province, Mandela would have been killed by a landmine planted by the group, resulting in possible wider bloodshed in the trouble that might have ensued.

Members of Boeremag were apprehended after a series of bombings in Soweto township near Johannesburg in 2002. One woman died in the attacks, with dozens of people injured.

The group was reported to have planned to spread unrest through the bombings and murder, and to take over military bases in the resultant chaos. The subsequent plan had been to drive all black and Indian citizens from the country.

The trial lasted almost a decade and resulted in the first guilty verdicts for treason since the end of apartheid in 1994. Security was tight in the courtroom, with two notable escape efforts by the defendants during previous proceedings.

The local newspaper Pretoria reported that a father and three sons were among those convicted. The youngest of the 20 is 32, while the oldest was said to be 74.

Mandela, now 95, remains critically ill and under treatment at his home in Johannesburg after he was discharged from hospital in September.

rc/mkg (AP, AFP, dpa)