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Africa

White supremacists sentenced in South African treason trial

Leaders of a white supremacist plot to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of South Africa have been found guilty of treason and sentenced to long prison terms. The case began over 10 years ago.

Sentences were handed down on Tuesday (28.10.2013) by the Gauteng High Court in the capital Pretoria. Five leaders of a "Boeremag"(Boer force) white supremacist group who had plotted to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country were found guilty of treason and sentenced to jail terms of up to 35 years. Of the 21 defendants, others received sentences of between five and 20 years while nine were allowed to leave after spending 11 years behind bars during the long trial.

The "Boeremag" was a rag-tag militia of apartheid loyalists, some of whom were charged with causing explosions in Gauteng, South Africa's richest province. Most blasts took place in the township of Soweto. One woman was killed.

Nelson Mandela acknowledges the applause he receives for a speech he made as president in 1994 Photo:: Ron Sachs/CNP/AdMedia

Nelson Mandela escaped an attempt on his life in 2002

The alleged mastermind of the group, former university lecturer Mike du Toit, was the first to be convicted last year for treason and was among those given a 35-year sentence.

Verdicts widely considered appropriate

Judge Eben Jordaan said that if the group had been successful in carrying out their plans to overthrow the government, they would have plunged the country into chaos and bloodshed.

State prosecutor Paul Vick, who has been involved with the case for the past 10 years, told the press that the state was satisfied with the outcome. "It was a fair trial and we are satisfied that the accused got what they deserved, and I think the community will be satisfied," Vick said.

The case was closely followed in South Africa and reactions to the verdict were mixed, DW's correspondent Subry Govender reports.

Durban resident Ngobile Ngubane, in his mid 20s, said the verdicts were appropriate in view of the crimes being planned, while another black South African Leonard Christensen said the extremists should have become members of a political party and used the mechanisms available to express their opinions. "Whatever was worrying them could have been expressed through a party," he said.

This opinion is shared by political observer Flynn Edwards. "To say 'I have a view' and then resort to things that cost life and limb in order to force my views down people's throats - that can never be condoned in any society, irrespective of the rightness or wrongness of that position," he said.

The plan to assassinate Nelson Mandela by planting a bomb along a route he was due to travel was thwarted when Mandela flew in by helicopter instead.

Little support from white South Africans

Lets Pretorius chats to his two sons Johan and Wilhelm Pretorius ahead of their sentencing at Pretoria High Court REUTERS/Stringer

Johan (center)and Wilhelm Pretorius (right) were among those sentenced.

Groups like the Boeremag and the Afrikaner Resistance Movement led by Eugene Terre'Blanche until his murder in April 2010 have little backing from the majority of the country's almost five million whites. However, DW's correspondent reports that some white South Africans told him they felt the length of time the accused had spent behind bars waiting for the case to come to court should have been taken more into account.

Former bank CEO Hennie van Kahn said the fairness of the trial could never be in doubt because the state had spent more than 30 million Rand (2.2 million euros, $3 million) of taypayers' money on the extremists' legal defense. van Kahn said the length of the trial had given the accused a fair chance to present their case "Look at all the millions that have been spent on this trial, it shows the fairness of the government side," he said. "They gave these guys a fair trial and I believe they should be thankful for that."

Correspondent Subry Govender says the conviction and sentencing of the extremists is being seen as a clear message that no form of terrorism will be tolerated in South Africa.

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