August 25, 2017 / 2:20 PM / 2 years ago

South Africans who forced man into coffin convicted of attempted murder

FILE PHOTO: Farmers Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins look on during a court appearance in Delmas, Mpumalanga province, South Africa, July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

MIDDELBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - Two white South Africans who were filmed forcing a wailing black man into a coffin were found guilty on Friday of kidnap, assault and attempted murder.

The men said they had caught Victor Mlotshwa trespassing on their farm in possession of stolen copper cables. The 20-second video, widely circulated on social media last year, shows Mlotshwa cowering inside a coffin as one man pushes the lid down and the other threatens to put petrol and a snake inside.

The case, heard at a court in Middelburg, about 160 km (100 miles) east of the capital Pretoria, has caused outrage in a country where deep racial divides persist 23 years after the fall of apartheid.

Mlotshwa welcomed the ruling, telling Reuters: “I’m feeling very good. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for and finally justice has been served.”

A large crowd formed outside the packed courtroom. There was a heavy presence of police patrolling around the court.

Members of the country’s main political parties, including the ruling African National Congress, the main opposition Democratic Alliance party and the Economic Freedom Fighters gathered outside carrying placards, some which said “Down with racism!” and shouting slogans in support of Mlotshwa.

Black people make up 80 percent of South Africa’s 54 million population yet most its wealth remains in the hands of white people who account for about 8 percent of the population.

Defendants Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen have the right to appeal.

They will remain free on bail until their sentencing on Oct. 23, Judge Segopotje Mphahlele said in her ruling. The bail conditions were not given.

Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Alison Williams

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