, PRETORIA, Aug 20 – A South African court Monday convicted the last of 20 men accused of high treason for a plot to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country, in a trial that spanned nearly a decade.
The “Boeremag” organisation had planned a right-wing coup in 2002 to overthrow the post-apartheid government by creating chaos in the country.
Dozens of people were injured and one person killed in blasts that shook the Johannesburg township of Soweto in October 2002.
High Court Judge Eben Jordaan found that Kobus Pretorius was the group’s “master explosives manufacturer” and “took the lead in the production process” throughout their bomb-making activity.
“He produced the bomb intended for president Mandela and explained to the others how it worked,” Jordaan said.
The Boeremag — Afrikaans for “Boer Force”, a reference to the descendants of the first Dutch colonisers — had planned to sow chaos through bomb blasts then take over military bases, replace the government with white military rule and chase all blacks and Indians from the country.
The trial took almost a decade and the verdict, read from July 26, almost a month to complete.
All 20 accused were convicted of treason, but only five of murder and the plot to kill Mandela, South Africa’s first black president.
Pretorius, the last to be convicted, apologised for his involvement.
“I was wrong and I want to ask forgiveness for every person who suffered loss and was disadvantaged by my actions. I am sorry,” he said after the trial.
Earlier Pretorius’ two brothers and father were convicted of treason as well as the plot to kill Mandela and the killing of a Soweto resident.
The woman died when a bomb explosion sent a piece of steel from a railway 400 metres (1,300 feet) through the air. It struck her in the head when it burst through her shack.
Pretorius distanced himself from his family in the later stages of the trial, saying he had come to new political insights.
The group’s far-fetched scheme has been widely dismissed as a racist delusion. The plan included laying bags of maize on roads to lure blacks out of the country. If that didn’t work, whites would chase them away with pickup trucks.
The trial drew out South Africa’s most racist fringe.
Far-right organisation the Boer Republicans compared the trial to that of Mandela, who was jailed for life in 1964 in the exact same courtroom for sabotage against the white-minority government.
“Through the years of our people’s history, conviction and high treason always hailed the change in the playing field, and this time it will be no different,” the group said in a statement.
Barend Strydom, who had been sentenced to death for killing eight blacks and wounding another 25 in 1988, was in the public gallery in what he called a show of “love and support for our fellow Boer people”.
Known as the White Wolf, Strydom opened fire on blacks in the capital Pretoria. He was released in 1992 in a prisoner exchange during talks between the apartheid government and Mandela’s African National Congress.
“High treason is a political charge and is normally used to silence opponents,” Strydom said Monday.
“Regardless of what earthly judges decide, we know that the Eternal Judge will absolve these Boer prisoners of war.”
The trial lasted almost a decade and the verdict, read from July 26, took nearly a month to complete.
Sentencing hearings have yet to be scheduled, but the group could face up to life in prison. South Africa does not have the death penalty.