White South African farmers guilty in ‘coffin assault’
Assailants filmed themselves shoving black victim into a wooden coffin and closing the top as he begged for his life.
A South African judge on Friday found two white farmers guilty of attempted murder after they filmed themselves forcing a black man into a coffin and threatening to burn him alive.
“For attempted murder of Mr [Victor] Mlotshwa, I hereby find you both guilty,” Judge Segopotje Mphahlele told the accused before supporters of the victim burst out in celebratory songs in the courtroom.
Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins Jackson, both wearing jackets and ties, were also found guilty of kidnapping, intimidation, and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Middelburg outside the court, said the judge decided to release the two from detention until the sentencing day on September 23.
She also said that the victim told Al Jazeera outside the court that he felt “vindicated”.
“He says the ruling sends a message that if you are racist, the courts will deal with you,” she said. “He is very happy with the outcome.”
Only to scare
Oosthuizen and Jackson pleaded not guilty over the incident which occurred last year in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, saying they only intended to scare Mlotshwa after he allegedly stole copper cables from their farm.
Two clips of footage taken on their mobile phones showed the assailants shoving Mlotshwa down into the wooden coffin and pressing the lid closed with their boots as he begged for his life.
Video shows Mlotshwa cowering and moaning in the coffin, and a man is heard threatening to pour in gasoline. Another threat is made to put a snake inside.
READ MORE: South Africa: Whites stuff black man into a coffin
Activists from rival political parties, including the ruling African National Congress and the main opposition Democratic Alliance, rallied outside the court and attended each day of the trial.
When the first phone footage emerged several months ago, it triggered national outrage and led to the arrest of the two men.
“Please don’t kill me,” Mlotshwa begged the men while in the coffin, the footage shown.
“Why shouldn’t we, when you are killing our farm?” one replied.
Mlotshwa was in court to hear the verdicts against the two men, who had alleged he had threatened to kill their families and burn farm crops before being forced into the coffin.
Mlotshwa said he was walking to the town of Middelburg to buy provisions for his mother and had decided to use a short cut when the two men spotted him.
The two men’s families told local media they were shocked over the verdicts.
South Africa is beset by deep-rooted racial inequality 23 years after the end of white-minority apartheid rule, and cases of racism have erupted regularly on social media in recent years.