Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson at the North Gauteng High Court sitting in Middelburg during their trial. Picture: ANA Archives

Bloemfontein - The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has reserved judgement in the case of two farm workers seeking to be released on bail pending an appeal against both their conviction and sentence after they were jailed last year for assaulting and forcing a man into a coffin. 

Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson were sentenced by the North Gauteng High Court sitting in Middelburg on October 27 last year to 11 and 14 years in prison, respectively. 

A video taken as they forced Victor Mlotshwa into a coffin, accusing him of trespassing and stealing copper cables in the area, went viral on social media. 

The two was found guilty of assault, attempted murder, kidnapping and intimidation. 

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Jackson was convicted on a further charge of defeating or obstructing the ends of justice after he burnt the coffin‚ which was to be used as evidence in court.

The victim denied the theft allegations saying he was attacked while trying to hitch-hike to town. He claimed he was beaten with a knobkerrie and the two also threatened to burn him alive.

Justices Mahomed Navsa, Nigel Willis, Ashton Schippers grilled Advocates Wayne Gibbs and Org Basson representing applicants one and two, respectively as they tried to understand why the two should be granted bail pending the appeal. 

Navsa said at the beginning he wanted to understand the relevance of the bail given that the applicants had a limited chance of escaping a custodial sentence upon appeal given the gravity of the matter. 

"There's a prospect of a custodial sentence in respect of kidnapping, assault GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) and racism as an underlying factor...," said Navsa.

"It (racism) has become a notorious factor in SA that racism is a divisive issue and it must dealt with," he added.

Judge Schippers agreed with Navsa saying the applicants were too aggressive towards Mlotshwa and that their actions were premeditated. 

He said the applicants threatened to burn the complaint alive.

"This is an extremely serious case of the violation of one's right to dignity... and security. Their actions were racially motivated. On these facts are there any prospects of escaping a custodial sentence?

Trying to justify the actions of the two, Gibbs said Mlotshwa threatened to burn the farms and harm their families after they said they were taking him to the police. 
He said farm murders were something very serious. And when threatened, farmers usually reacted harshly to protect their space.  

"They just wanted to terrorise him..."

But a shocked Navsa interjected, and asked: "Since when has terrorising someone become reasonable? Mr Gibbs, you're an officer of the court. Since when has the law of the jungle become acceptable? The complaint was at the mercy of the accused."

"You said there was sufficient provocation... that there was reasonable suspicion that the copper cables were stolen, was the action of the applicants the right thing to do, yes or no?

Willis dismissed Gibbs' statements saying: "No matter how impressive you will be in the appeal, I don't see the prospects of you avoiding a custodial sentence. 

"I can't see a court in SA accepting that the retaliation was reasonable and moderate... in 2018."

Basson said in the appeal against conviction and sentence, they would seek a non-custodial sentence with correctional supervision. 

Robert Molokoane appeared for the state.