Racism

Court postpones sentencing white farmers in coffin case

Two men were found guilty after shoving black victim into coffin and threatening to set him on fire.

Defendants Theo Jackson, right, and Willem Oosthuizen at court in Middelburg [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Middelburg, South Africa - A court in South Africa has postponed the sentencing of two white farmers found guilty of kidnapping, assault and intent to do grievous bodily harm after they shoved a black man in a coffin and threatened to set him on fire.

Sentencing proceedings were heard at the Middelburg Magistrate's Court on Monday for several hours.

Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson were found guilty of six out of seven charges in August 2017, but the decision was postponed until Friday.

Judge Segopotje Mphahlele said she needed more time.

The courtroom was packed with activists and representatives from some of the major political parties who flocked to witness developments in a case that shocked the country and show support for the victim - Victor Mlothshwa.

Defence lawyers representing the accused men asked the court to exercise leniency, as they alleged that Mlothshwa was riding a wave of public outrage ever since the video of him being assaulted in a coffin went viral in 2016.

Though they argued that the men, who are white farmers, were sorry for the consequences of their actions, the prosecution argued that the accused had shown little remorse.

The final judgment is expected to have far-reaching consequences for race relations in the country.

The incident, which took place in August 2016, caught the country's attention after mobile phone footage went viral.

Oosthuizen and Jackson pushed Mlothshwa into a coffin in August 2016 [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

In the clip, Oosthuizen and Jackson can be seen trying to close the lid of the coffin with their boots as Mlothshwa begged for his life.

The men can be heard hurling abuse and threatening to douse him with petrol and set him on fire.

The incident took place on a farm close to Komati power station in Middelburg, a northeastern town, and spurred national outrage, prompting recollections of the country's racist past.

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Outside the court on Monday, around 250 people gathered to sing, dance and show solidarity with Mlothshwa. Holding placards that read "Black Lives Matter", and wearing T-shirts bearing the faces of anti-apartheid icons Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, the protesters said they were demonstrating against abusive, racist behaviour.

Activist Luyanda Magadala, 35, said that white South Africans need to remember that the country has changed. "Our forefathers taught us that we are equal. They cannot treat us like this." 

In her judgement on August 25, Judge Mphahlele found the white farmers guilty of kidnapping and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm to Victor Mlotshwa.

Oosthuizen and Jackson pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempted murder saying they merely wanted to scare Mlotshwa, who they accused of cable theft.

Mlotshwa denied any wrongdoing and said he was picked up by the two men while taking a shortcut towards Middelburg.

Deep-seated racial inequality persists in South Africa two decades after the end of white-minority apartheid rule.

Activists and political parties packed the courtroom during proceedings, and have pressured for severe sentences for the men.

Activists flocked to witness the conclusion of a case that shocked the nation [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera News