South Africa Coffin Case: Farmers Jailed, Why Not the “Victim” Too?

Defendants in Coffin Case

Theo Martins Jackson, left, and Willem Oosthuizen first appeared in court in November | Screenshot via AlJazeera.com

The defendants in the “Coffin Case” in South Africa appeared in court for their sentencing hearing. The judge in the case, Judge Segopotje Mphahlele, gave the defendants the maximum sentence for a crime she termed as racist.

The BBC reported that the incident took place in August 2016 when Victor Mlotshwa was accused of trespassing on the farmers’ land. Martins and Oosthuizen put the man into a coffin and threatened to put a snake and gasoline in the coffin. They said that they only wanted to scare the man after he trespassed on the land. The video of the incident emerged later on YouTube, and it was only after the video came to light that charges were brought against the defendants. Jackson, 30, received 14 years for the incident while Oosthuizen, 29, received 11 years.

Those are the basic facts of the case. The rest of this story is my opinion. I believe that there were mitigating circumstances in the case, and I believe that the judge was harsh in her assessment of the defendants.

The Real Tension in South Africa

As white South Africans prepare for what is being termed as “Black Monday,” where they will protest the killing of farmers in South Africa by wearing black, tensions are high in South Africa. After all, there is quite a bit of racial tension that is taking place. Many whites are frustrated, and they deserve to be.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, approximately 80,000 whites have been murdered in South Africa. Compare this to the 7,000 that died under apartheid, and it’s hard not believe that whites are being targeted. Although it is true that more blacks than whites are murdered in South Africa, I have seen no evidence to indicate that blacks are being targeted because of race. Blacks are also 90 percent of the population. The ANC led government under Zuma has failed to address the issues of crime in South Africa and has even encouraged the targeting of whites, particularly the Boer.

I believe that these farmers were frustrated. Over 4,000 farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid. I believe the reason for this is that during apartheid, farmers banded together to provide security in their areas, and the ANC government has always seen them as a threat to keeping the ANC in power. Murdering the farmers also opens the door for land grabs. You can’t protest your land being taken from you if you’re dead.

These farmers claimed that the man was trespassing on their land. He claims he was not. The defendants claimed that they simply wanted to teach the man a lesson. Although the actions of the two farmers may seem extreme, I think it highlights the frustration that farmers feel in South Africa because their calls for help have been ignored by a government that seems more interested in exacting revenge than protecting its citizens and doing its job. Although the incident may not seem appropriate, it does bring to light the frustration and fear farmers are experiencing daily for not being protected on their own lands. The most dangerous occupation in South Africa today is being a farmer.

A Racist Judge

One thing I found irritating about the judge’s conduct in court was the assumption that the incident was racist. Just because the defendants were white and the victim was black doesn’t mean that the incident WAS racist.

Correct me if I am wrong here. Maybe this is because I’m an American, and in my country, we have a right to defend ourselves and protect our property. With the stress of being a farmer in South Africa because of the murder rate, I’m sure this played a major role in the reaction of the farmers.

There is no real way of knowing though how these farmers would have reacted if the trespasser was white. I saw no evidence that indicated the farmers targeted the man because he was black. For the judge to assume it was a racist incident without knowing the intent of the farmers would just be wrong. I think her opinion influenced in a negative way her decision.

There’s also the issue of trespassing here. The victim claimed he was taking a shortcut to the shops. Cutting across the land of the farmers, even if it was a shortcut, was still trespassing. The lack of personal responsibility here for the trespassing highlights the double standard of the court.

Although the conduct of the farmers was extreme, there were mitigating circumstances here, or at least circumstances that needed to be examined. Making assumptions without clear facts in evidence is something that should never be done in a court of law. A case can be made for assault here because it is clear the farmers assaulted the guy, I see no reason for the kidnapping charges or attempted murder. There is no evidence to support the idea that Jackson and Oosthuizen planned to murder the guy. The victim’s testimony in the case seems to have weighed more heavily than that of Jackson and Oosthuizen, leading me to believe that the way the testimony was weighed was racist.

Many white farmers were outraged by the sentencing and felt it was too harsh. While this case got a lot of attention, farmers are being routinely robbed and murdered, and very little is said or done about it. The ANC government has been in charge since 1994. To continue to play the victims in a country where they are clearly in charge is the biggest hypocrisy of all.

You can watch the sentencing hearing here: