Two white South Africans accused of assaulting and stuffing a black man into a coffin appeared in court today, Nov. 16, sparking protests in the small town of Middelburg. The pair’s alleged actions were captured in a viral video that surfaced earlier this month.
The 20-second video begins when the apparent victim is already inside the coffin. In what is believed to be a racially charged attack, two white men are seen trying to shove the coffin’s lid over the man’s head, forcing his arms inside and pressing his head down. They can be heard threatening to douse the coffin in petrol and to slip a snake inside it. The man, identified as Victor Rethabile Mlotshwa, can be heard in the background.
“I was scared for my life. They accused me of trespassing [on] their farm and they started beating me up,” he told South African news website News24 on Nov. 16, explaining that he found himself on the farm after following a footpath. “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’s brother says no one would have believed him if the video hadn’t been posted online. The two men accused of the assault, Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen, are believed to have circulated the video themselves. The incident reportedly happened on Aug. 27, and Jackson and Oosthuizen will remain in custody until the trial begins in January.
Protesters filled court benches and the street outside the court in the small town of Middelburg, in the eastern Mpumalanga province today. The ruling African National Congress and the smaller more radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, held protests against racism. The EFF went further, calling for black people to occupy the farm where the assault took place.
The incident and popular response to it highlights racial tensions that remain in South Africa more than 20 years after the end of apartheid. The internet, CCTV footage and social media have only sharpened public focus on racially-charged anger.