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Minister Lamola resurrects infamous coffin case

Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins pictured here during their court appearance for the coffin case, might have to go back to jail.
Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Martins pictured here during their court appearance for the coffin case, might have to go back to jail.
Image: VELI NHLAPO

Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola yesterday announced that the two Mpumalanga farm workers who forced Victor Mlotshwa into a coffin after claiming he had stolen copper cables would be referred to the parole review board.

"Please note that this matter is on review with the correctional services review parole board as per 77(1) of the Correctional Services Act," Lamola wrote on Twitter. His spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said: "The victim-offender dialogue and victim offender mediation was not conducted."

He said the men might have to go back to jail if the parole review board set their release aside. "That would be the outcome, as the review board is empowered to revoke parole," said Phiri.

Earlier this week, correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said Willem Oosthuizen and Theo Jackson were granted parole in February.

"Having served the minimum required time and fully completed the necessary rehabilitation programmes, the parole board resolved to place them on parole."

Their release on parole did not sit well with Mlotshwa, who expressed shock.

"I went through a lot. A lot has happened and I just gave up on everything. Just last year their sentences were reduced and now they are out of prison," he told Sowetan's sister publication TimesLIVE. Mlotshwa's ordeal made headlines in 2016 when a video of the coffin assault went viral on social media. In the video, he could be heard crying and begging for his life as the pair threatened to set alight the coffin he had been forced into.

The Middelburg High Court sentenced them to 16 (Jackson) and 11 years (Oosthuizen) behind bars. They started serving their sentences in 2017. Last year, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) set aside their attempted murder convictions and an assault conviction for an alleged assault on Delton Sithole, who said he was also assaulted by the pair on the same day.

On the attempted murder conviction, the SCA found the "trial court's approach to the evidence was arbitrary. For instance, it is accepted there was insufficient evidence before it regarding the instrument referred to as a firearm, but at the same time accepted the evidence of the complainants ..."

On Sithole's assault, the court ruled: "Given the many probabilities in the complainants' account, coupled with contradictions in their own evidence and the objective facts, the trial court erred in accepting evidence of Sithole as proof of the commission of the assault against him."

After a Constitutional Court ruling in October declaring sections of the Intimidation Act of 1982 as unconstitutional and invalid, Oosthuizen and Jackson's intimidation convictions were dissolved.

The high court had initially handed them a five-year sentence for kidnapping, but the SCA reduced this to one year.

The pair, as a result, were serving time for assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm on Mlotshwa and his kidnapping, while Jackson faced an additional charge of defeating the ends of justice after he confessed to burning the coffin that had been used in the attack.

For the assault, they each got five years in jail, with another year for kidnapping. All the sentences were to run concurrently, meaning their sentence was an effective five years. They became eligible for parole after serving two thirds of their sentence. - Additional reporting by Iavan Pijoos and Naledi Shange

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