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Pretoria - A lone rightwinger shouted “we will overcome” while relatives of some Boeremag men sobbed quietly on Tuesday after sentencing in the first post-apartheid treason trial.
Judge Eben Jordaan said the trial in the High Court in Pretoria had been unique.
No other court since South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994 ever had to determine sentences for men who tried to destroy the country's fragile democracy by overthrowing the government.
The treason trial is the result of a far rightwing coup plot in the early 2000s to violently overthrow the African National Congress-led government.
The plotters planned to chase non-whites out of the country and replace the government with military Boer leadership.
The plan included active steps to kill former president Nelson Mandela with a landmine in October 2002 while he was on his way to open a school in Bolobedu, Limpopo, to trigger chaos in the country. Jordaan said if Mandela had not arrived by helicopter there would have been large-scale bloodshed.
He sentenced Boeremag military leader Tom Vorster and “bomb squad” members Herman van Rooyen, Rudi Gouws, Johan Pretorius and his brother Wilhelm to in effect 25 years' imprisonment.
Gouws, who was once on the run for eight months after escaping from the court cells in 2006, wiped away tears after hearing his fate.
Van Rooyen was not in court after refusing to be transported in an armoured vehicle, which he claimed gave him panic attacks because of his fear of confined spaces. The court earlier turned down his bid to be transported to court in an ordinary car.
Kobus Pretorius, who was the Boeremag's master bomb maker, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. The court accepted his evidence that he had broken with the past and deeply regretted what he did.
He no longer talked to his brother or his father Dr Lets Pretorius, who was also sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.
He appeared shocked at his sentence, holding his head in his hands and seemed to be fighting back tears.
Dr Pretorius's wife Minnie was inconsolable and sat in court crying long after the trial had adjourned.
Boeremag leaders Mike du Toit and Dirk Hanekom were each sentenced to in effect 20 years' imprisonment.
Andre du Toit and Dion van den Heever were given 10-year sentences and Rooikoos du Plessis and Jurie Vermeulen five-year sentences.
Boeremag chaplain Vis Visagie, 74, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but prison authorities could convert his sentence to correctional supervision at any time.
The only five Boeremag members to walk out of court as free men were Boeremag “weakling” Adriaan van Wyk, the Boeremag's youngest member Jacques Gouws who was only involved in the coup plot for a few days, and former defence force members Giel Burger, Jacques Olivier and Pieter van Deventer.
The court did not sentence the ailing Fritz Naude, who is in a nursing home after suffering a series of strokes.
Jordaan said some of the accused, who had been in jail for between 10 and 11-and-a-half years, only had themselves to blame as their former co-accused, Dawie Oosthuizen, had already been free for a long time after pleading guilty.
He said most of the Boeremag members had misled the court with denials over the past decade.
Van Rooyen had taken the initiative and led his band of bombers from violent crime to violent crime.
Soweto mother Claudia Mokome was killed in one of the explosions, several people were injured and millions of rands of damage was caused to infrastructure and buildings.
Jordaan said not even the death of a woman had stopped Van Rooyen. He continued plotting to overthrow the government after escaping from custody halfway through the trial.
He ordered his men to shoot any policemen who tried to arrest them and reconciled himself with the idea of massive bloodshed. He was present during meetings where the coup plot and the death of traitors were discussed.
Jordaan said it was clear from Johan Pretorius's diaries that he was an “utter racist” and a religious fanatic who took part in manufacturing and planting bombs.
He dismissed the bomb squad's claims that they were soldiers involved in a war, saying even soldiers were not supposed to kill innocent people.
Jordaan stressed that every citizen's rights were protected by the Constitution and the use of violence could never be condoned.
He stressed that the accused were a small group of individuals who had failed to prove that they were being oppressed. They had committed serious crimes against a democratically-elected government.