Boeremag kingpin convicted in treason trial
It took more than nine years for the state to achieve its first conviction in the case but it has finally received a verdict: guilty of treason.
Mike du Toit was accused number one in the trial – the first to be arrested and the most senior leader of the group of coup plotters in all but name.
On Thursday, Judge Eben Jordaan – in a judgment that took nearly two full days to deliver – said that Du Toit had authored a blueprint for revolution that was to evict black people from most of South Africa and was intended to kill anyone and everyone who got in its way.
This marks only the beginning of the end of the long-running trial, though.
Seventeen more accused remain in the dock in the North Gauteng High Court and the last may have to wait a month to hear his verdict – the unabbreviated summary of evidence and judgment runs across tens of thousands of pages. At least one other accused is unlikely to be well enough to appear in court to hear the verdict in his case.
Although Du Toit and his legal representatives declined to comment, he is expected to apply for leave to appeal.
Over the years evidence has painted Du Toit as a ruthless man, who either believed he had a destiny as a leader who would restore South Africa to white control or who cold-bloodedly played on the religious and mystical beliefs of others to create a private army.
That army, using nothing but their private weapons, stockpiles of diesel and a couple of hundred kilograms of explosives was then supposed to seize military bases and major broadcasters, assassinate key government leaders and drive black people across the northern borders and into the Eastern Cape. That would leave the country under the control of a military government, free of what the plotters considered the complications of democracy – most likely with Du Toit as its ruler.
But the plot – which saw meetings with dozens of people all over the country and ham-fisted attempts to recruit security insiders (including a high-ranking military official who reported the approach almost immediately) was closely watched by intelligence agencies.
The Boeremag plot culminated in what would have been a comedy of errors in Soweto, were it not for the fact that one woman was killed in an explosion intended to start sowing the chaos and confusion that would give the group the cover for its coup.
Du Toit has been in prison and awaiting trial for a decade. Arguments in mitigation and aggravation of sentencing are only expected to commence towards the end of the year.
Jordaan on Wednesday – the first day of judgment – rejected the suggestion by the 22 accused that police informants, who were used as state witnesses, had acted as provocateurs.
He said the accused were not put off when they realised that there were informers in their ranks.
Some of them had in fact continued with the plan to overthrow the ANC government and had planted more bombs.
This was after the first few trialists had been arrested and while some were still on the run from the police.
Additional bombs planned for Pretoria and Johannesburg were prevented only when the police arrested the last three accused late in 2002.
The state's allegation of an alleged coup conspiracy was not based only on the planning document known as "Document 12", but on numerous other documents and the totality of the evidence.
Document 12 was found on the computer of the first person arrested and the deduction was inevitable that he was its author.
Jordaan rejected argument that using former alleged co-plotters as state witnesses, testifying in return for possible indemnity from prosecution, was unconstitutional.
He also rejected claims that two of the accused were "forced" to make admissions late in the trial.
Although the accused claimed to have believed they were involved in a legitimate war against a "racist regime", Jordaan said they could not have believed that civilian targets, such as a mosque, were legitimate targets.
The 22 accused in the treason trial are accused of forming an organisation and recruiting others to overthrow the existing government, and of committing serious, violent crimes in the process.
The accused denied all the charges at the start of the trial. Many of them changed their versions and made certain admissions many years later.
A total of 194 witnesses testified for the state and many state witnesses spent months in the witness box.
Jordaan said he might take longer than the expected three weeks to deliver a summary of his judgment. – Additional reporting by Sapa