Court to sentence whites who shoved black man in coffin
Middelburg, South Africa – A court is sentencing two white men 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 being heard at the Middelburg Magistrate’s Court on Monday after the men were found guilty of six out of seven charges in August 2017.
The courtroom was packed to capacity as activists and representatives from some of the major political parties flocked to witness the conclusion of a case that shocked the country.
The incident caught the country’s attention after mobile phone footage showed the two white farmers pushing Victor Mlothshwa, an unemployed resident of the surrounding area, into a coffin in August 2016.
|Oosthuizen and Jackson pushed Mlothshwa into a coffin in August 2016 [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]|
The men, Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins Jackson, could be seen trying to close the lid of the coffin with their boots as Mlothshwa begged for his life.
The men could 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.
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.”
|Defendants Theo Jackson, right, and Willem Oosthuizen await sentencing in Middelburg [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]|
In his judgement on August 25, Judge Segopotje Mphahlele found the white farmers guilty of kidnapping and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm on 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]|