MIDDELBURG, South Africa — Two white South Africans accused of forcing a black man into a coffin and threatening to set him on fire appeared before a judge on Wednesday as demonstrators protested against racism outside the courthouse.
Members of the ruling African National Congress party and opposition parties gathered outside the court in Middelburg in Mpumalanga province, where the judge postponed the case against the two detained farmers until Jan. 25. The two men said they did not apply for bail because they would fear for their lives if released, the African News Agency reported.
A video showing the racially charged incident has circulated on social media, intensifying debate about South Africa's legacy of white minority rule, which ended in 1994.
Protesters rally outside the Middelburg Magistrate Court in South Africa on Wednesday during the first hearing of two white men accused of assault charges after an online video emerged showing them pushing a black man into a coffin and threatening to burn him alive. (Photo: MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
The video shows a man cowering and moaning in a coffin as a tormentor pushes part of the lid over his head and upper body. A man is also heard threatening to pour gasoline in the coffin. Another threat is to put a snake in the coffin.
The assaulted man, Victor Rethabile Mlotshwa, said the two men accused him of trespassing on their farm after he used a footpath in the area.
"The next thing, there was a grave and then a coffin. There was nothing I could do because the other man had a gun,'' Mlotshwa said, according to the News24 media organization.
"The next thing, there was a grave and then a coffin. There was nothing I could do because the other man had a gun."
Protesters at the courthouse included members of the Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party that wants land held by the white minority to be redistributed to poor blacks.
"They still benefit out of a crime, a crime against humanity,'' Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, a spokesman for the opposition group, said of the white minority. He said it was wrong to forgive whites after apartheid but `"till keep them in a position of dominance.''
South Africa won praise for reconciliation efforts among racial groups when apartheid ended, but many black South Africans express frustration that they have failed to reap the economic benefits they expected from democracy. The income of the average white household is six times that of a black household, according to 2011 census data.
The foundation of F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last apartheid-era president, said the assault on Mlotshwa was dehumanizing and humiliating.
"We hope the justice system will reach an outcome that restores a measure of dignity to Mr. Mlotshwa,'' the foundation said.
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