South African farmers jailed for forcing black man into coffin

Two white South African farmers who were filmed pushed a wailing black man into a coffin were sentenced to jail on Friday for attempted murder, assault and kidnapping.

The defendants, Theo Jackson, sentenced to 14 years, and Willem Oosthuizen, sentenced to 11 years, had pleaded not guilty.

A 20-second video widely circulated on social media in 2016, shows the victim, Victor Mlotshwa, cowering inside a coffin as one man pushes the lid down and the other threatens to put petrol and a snake inside.

They said they had caught Mlotshwa trespassing on their farm in possession of stolen copper cables.

The case, heard at a court in Middelburg, about 160 km east of the capital Pretoria, had caused outrage in a country where deep racial divides persist 23 years after the end of apartheid.

When she handed down the sentences, Judge Segopotje Mphahlele said she was appalled that the accused persons had put Mlotshwa into a coffin.

“The evidence before court indicates that the seriousness of the offence far outweighs the mitigating factors and the personal factors of the offenders.

“The conduct of the accused persons fueled social division and racial tension,” she said.

The defence immediately requested that it be allowed to appeal the sentence, but Mphahlele dismissed their application.

The defence then said it would lodge their appeal directly to the Supreme Court of Appeal, saying that the sentence was too harsh, since no one had been killed.

“South Africa is no longer prepared to treat racism with kid gloves and we are ready to act,” Justice Minister Michael Masutha said in an interview with eNCA.

A large crowd formed outside the packed courtroom, though the police presence around the court was heavy.

“What they did was painful to us,’’ Qgoga Mnyamezeli said outside the court.

Hundreds of members of the country’s main political parties, including the ruling African National Congress and the main opposition Democratic Alliance party, gathered outside carrying placards.

Some which read; “Black Lives Matter!”, and shouting slogans in support of Mlotshwa.

Black people make up 80 per cent of South Africa’s 54 million population, but most of its wealth remains in the hands of whites, who account for about eight per cent of the population.
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