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South African farmers jailed in 'coffin' case

October 27, 2017

The two white men were handed down jail terms for forcing a black man into a coffin and threatening to kill him. Even 23 years after the end of apartheid, South Africa continues to struggle with racism.

Willem Oosthuizen und Theo Martins react after their sentencing
Image: Reuters/S. Sibeko

A court in South Africa on Friday sentenced two white farmers guilty of attempted murder after a video emerged last year showing the defendants forcing a black man into a coffin and threatening to set it on fire. 

The video showed Victor Mlotshwa being forced into a coffin as he pleaded for the white men not to kill him. "Why shouldn't we, when you are killing our farm?" responded one of the defendants in the video.

Read more: South African whites feel the pain of poverty, too 

The two farmers, Theo Martins Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen, were handed 14 and 11-year prison terms respectively on charges of assault, kidnapping and the attempted murder of Mlotshwa. 

"The conduct of the accused was most dehumanizing and disgusting," Judge Segopotje Mphahlele said while sentencing the duo at a High Court sitting in Middelburg, 165 kilometers (100 miles) east of Johannesburg. Mphahlele added that the two did not show any remorse for the racist crime.

The two farmers were found guilty in August.

Enduring racism

Oosthuizen and Jackson had pleaded not guilty over the incident, which occurred in the eastern province of Mpumalanga. The defendants said they were only trying to scare Mlotshwa, alleging that he stole copper cables from their farm.

The video triggered national outrage when it emerged last year. Racism continues to be a source of tension in South Africa, even 23 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule.

Black people make up about 80 percent of South Africa's population of 54 million. However, most of the country's wealth remains in the hands of white people, who account for roughly 8 percent of the population.

ap, ls/ng (dpa, AFP)