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.
Supporters of the victim burst out in celebratory songs in the courtroom after judge Segopotje Mphahlele told the accused that “for attempted murder of Mr (Victor) Mlotshwa, I hereby find you both guilty.”
Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins Jackson, both wearing jackets and ties, were also found guilty of kidnap, intimidation and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm.
They had pleaded not guilty over the incident 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.
Rival activists from the ruling African National Congress party, the main opposition Democratic Alliance and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had rallied outside court and attended each day of the trial.
The Democratic Alliance welcomed the court ruling, saying “Justice prevails. South Africa has no place for racists”.
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 showed.
“Why shouldn’t we, when you are killing our farm?” one farmer replied.
Mlotshwa was in court to hear the verdicts against the two men, who had alleged that he had threatened to kill their families and burn farm crops before being forced into the coffin.
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.
Outside the court on Friday, protesters carried mock coffins decorated with pictures of the accused and called for them to be found guilty on all charges.
On the phone footage, which was shown in court during the trial, one of the men said “Come, come. We want to throw the petrol on”.
They are also threatened to put a snake in the coffin.
“This hideous case lays bare the discrimination that still runs deep in South African society,” Amnesty said in a statement.
“The fact that the whole grotesque episode was captured on video and then posted to social media suggests that the perpetrators felt little concern that they would face justice.”
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 by the verdicts.
“Today we are celebrating the victory of the criminal justice system,” said Monica Nyuswa, spokeswoman for the national prosecuting authority.
“There is a lot more to happen on the day of the sentencing,” she added.
The two men were granted bail ahead of sentencing set for October 23.