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'Racist' farmers sentenced to prison over coffin case

شعار Al Jazeera Al Jazeera 27/10/2017
Defendants Theo Jackson, right, and Willem Oosthuizen at court in Middelburg on Monday [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera] © Provided by Al Jazeera Defendants Theo Jackson, right, and Willem Oosthuizen at court in Middelburg on Monday [Azad Essa/Al Jazeera]

Middelburg, South Africa - A court in South Africa has sentenced 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.

Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson were sentenced to 11 and 14 years in jail, respectively.

Sentencing proceedings, which had been postponed since Monday, were heard at the Middelburg Magistrate's Court on Friday.

The case has shocked the country and saw an outpouring of support for Victor Mlothshwa.

Defence lawyers representing the accused men had earlier asked the court to be lenient, alleging 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 judgement 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.

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 assault 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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In her judgement on August 25, Judge Segopotje 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.

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