Two white farmers, who forced a terrified black man they caught on their land into a coffin and threatened to throw in a snake and burn him alive, were sent to prison yesterday for attempted murder.
Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson were also sentenced for kidnapping, assault with GBH and intimidation in a trial that highlighted the deep racial divisions in South Africa.
The pair were sentenced to a combined 35 years after a court was shown a horrific two-minute long video of them threatening their victim, trapped inside a coffin.
South African Farmers Willem Oosthuizen (left), 30, and Theo Jackson (right), 29, were sentenced to a combined 35 years in prison for attempted murder, among other charges, after their attack on a black man which involved forcing him into a coffin went viral, causing riots
The video, recorded by the farmers, showed the helpless Victor Mlotshwa with his hands clasped in prayer, whimpering as he was forced to lie down in the casket.
Mlotshwa was seen begging for his life as his tormentors tried to close the lid on him, claiming to have found him trespassing.
Married father of three Jackson, 30, was sentenced to 19 years, with five years suspended, meaning he will serve 14 years.
Married father of two Oosthuizen, 29, was sentenced to 16 years with five years suspended, meaning he will serve 11 years.
The pair, who said they lived in fear following repeated death threats while remanded in custody for eight months, were jeered at and branded racists by a largely black crowd in the court.
They have already said they feared being murdered in prison and had begged for a suspended sentence.
The video, recorded by the farmers, showed the helpless Victor Mlotshwa (pictured in court) with his hands clasped in prayer, whimpering as he was forced to lie down in the casket. Mlotshwa was seen begging for his life as his tormentors tried to close the lid on him
However the judge told them their actions had fueled racial tensions in South Africa before sentencing them.
Dozens of extra armed police officers were drafted in to keep law and order both inside and outside the court, after fears of violence breaking out if the sentence had not been a long prison term for them both.
The two farmers who pleaded not guilty were given two months bail to put their affairs in order after being found guilty by Judge Segopotje Mphahlele at Middelburg High Court sitting in the Magistrates Court.
The court is in Mpumalanga Province in the east of South Africa where the farm was based.
Yesterday Mr Mlotshwa appeared before Judge Mphahlele and said he thought the farmers should be jailed for 15 years.
Mr Mlotshwa appeared before Judge Mphahlele and said he thought the farmers should be jailed for 15 years. While the victim also said he was due compensation for his ordeal of R400,000 (£22,750). The victim’s mother fled court after watching the harrowing video
While the victim also said he was due compensation for his ordeal of R400,000 (£22,750).
The attackers’ defence lawyers requested the judge show mercy and give them non-custodial sentences.
But prosecutor Robert Molokoane said the whole country was watching adding: ‘They had no respect for the law as they took the law into their own hands. They took the video to show what they do with the black man.’
He said that the offences opened old wounds as they were racially motivated.
In August both were convicted after Mr Mlotshwa’s ordeal in the coffin was shown to the court on a big screen.
They were also caught on video of threatening to throw a snake in the coffin with their terrified prisoner.
Married father of three Jackson (front left), 30, was sentenced to 19 years, with five years suspended, meaning he will serve 14 years. Married father of two Oosthuizen (left, rear), 29, was sentenced to 16 years with five years suspended, meaning he will serve 11 years for their attack on Mr Mlotshwa
When the footage went viral on social media last year it triggered national outrage and near rioting. Ultimately leading to the arrest of the two accused, who were remanded in custody for their own safety after getting death threats.
Mr Mlotshwa wept in court when the video was shown and his mother was so distressed she left the courtroom.
‘Please don’t kill me,’ Mlotshwa is heard begging the two white men while being forced into the coffin
‘Why shouldn’t we, when you are killing our farm?’ one replied.
The two claimed that they had caught Mr Mlotshwa with stolen copper cables trespassing on private property. They said he threatened to return at night and burn down their crops and murder their wives and children.
When the footage (pictured) went viral on social media last year it triggered national outrage and near rioting. Ultimately leading to the arrest of the two accused. Mr Mlotshwa claimed he was beaten and then driven to a barn where he was put in a coffin while being assaulted
To scare him from carrying out his threat they said they put him in the coffin and threatened to burn him alive in the hope that he would be too frightened to return.
Mr Mlotshwa did not report the incident and only went to police when the video went viral months later.
The footage caused shock in the court with many in the public gallery in tears, with some forced to leave in distress.
Activists from political parties, including the ruling African National Congress and the main opposition Democratic Alliance and the EEF rallied outside court and attended each day of the trial in force.
Mr Mlotshwa broke down in tears many times during his evidence claiming he was kidnapped as he took a short cut across their farm into town to by provisions for his mother to sell at her shop.
The victim describing the coffin attack told the packed courtroom: ‘Jackon opened the coffin and told me to get into it. Oosthuizen told me he would shoot me if I ran away’. The horrific video shows the pair threatening to burn their victim alive and throw a snake inside the casket
The farmers claimed he was a thief and trespasser.
Mr Mlotshwa claimed he was beaten and then driven to a barn where he was put in a coffin.
The victim describing the coffin attack told the packed courtroom: ‘Accused Number 2 (Jackson) opened the coffin and told me to get into it. Accused Number 1 (Oosthuizen) told me he would shoot me if I ran away.
‘I refused to get into the coffin and they both assaulted me with their fists all over my body.
‘I was so scared and I kept asking them what was happening but none of them answered me. I then thought it better to get into the coffin as I could no longer endure the pain’ he said.
Mr Mlotshwa denied making any threats to the two farmers.