A South African court refused Thursday the conditional release of two white farmers, prosecuted for trying to lock up a young black man in a coffin and threatened to burn him.
“It would not be in the interests of justice for the accused to be released on bail,” Judge Jongilizwe Dumehleli said after reading a judgment of more than two hours.
The two men remained impassive, head down after this decision, while the audience gathered in the courtroom, including the victim, applauded the judgment.
Willem Oosthuizen, 28, and Theo Martins Jackson, 29, were then taken back to their cells where they will spend Christmas, with the next hearing scheduled for January 25, 2017.
The two white farmers are accused of having abducted and assaulted Victor Mlotshwa, a 27-year-old black worker, in August on a farm near the town of Middelburg in the northeastern province of South Mpumalanga.
The two men were arrested in November following the broadcast of a video, apparently filmed with a cell phone by one of the two accused.
On this 20-second clip, one of the accused attempts to close a coffin in which the struggling victim is lying down. The two farmers are also accused of threatening to burn the living worker and throwing a snake into the coffin.
In a document handed to the Middelburg court by their lawyer, the two accused say they are not racist and explained that they wanted to “give a lesson” to Victor Mlotshwa, who had entered private property.
They also suspected him of stealing copper cables.
In his judgment, however, the magistrate said that the two farmers had treated their victim as a “kaffir”, an extremely pejorative racist insult.
Twenty-two years after the official collapse of the apartheid regime, racial tensions remain high in South Africa, where inequalities between the black majority and the white minority remain enormous.