The so-called Mangaung treason trial came to an emotionally charged end last week after Judge Mojalefa Rampai found Johan Prinsloo guilty of high treason.
Prinsloo was also convicted on a charge of possession of illegal ammunition and sentenced to an effective 13 years imprisonment.
As Rampai read out the conviction, 52-year-old Prinsloo was immediately embraced by his wife Katrien and sobbing daughter Cassandra. The close-knit family spent a few moments hugging in the midst of a frenzy of cameras and reporters before Prinsloo was led back to the holding cells.
Prinsloo and three others were arrested on December 16, 2012, for plotting to overthrow the government by targeting the ANC elective conference in Mangaung. They intended to kill the ANC leadership, including President Jacob Zuma, by using mortars to blow up the conference venue and also planned other attacks at various points across the country.
Of the other three suspects, charges were withdrawn against one and the second, Martin Keevy, was declared mentally unfit to stand trial. The man believed to be the mastermind, Mark Trollip, is currently serving eight years after signing a plea bargain agreement with the state.
The trial heard mind-boggling accounts of plans to purchase illicit diamonds from Zimbabwe to finance the plot and the planned use of railway lines to ferry arms and forces for attacks across the country.
Much of the evidence centered on a failed attempt to acquire mortars in Ficksburg, just days before the proposed attack on 16 December 2012. Another witness then detailed how the plotters continued trying to secure mortars from gangsters in Reiger Park on the East Rand.
Speaking exclusively to Bloemfontein Courant, state advocate Torie Pretorius said he was satisfied with the sentence. "It’s not just a slap on the wrist. It’s more than eight years. So I am quite satisfied," he said.
Rampai detailed various mitigating factors in handing down sentence, including the fact that Prinsloo had no previous convictions, is in poor health and is elderly. In aggravation was the fact, among others, that high treason is the most serious crime one can commit against one’s motherland. Though he said aggravating factors far outweighed mitigating factors, Rampai nonetheless said he would be merciful.
"It is not my intention to break you, I think you have suffered a great deal already…"
It is not yet clear where Prinsloo will be serving his sentence. Correctional Services’ provincial deputy regional commissioner says Prinsloo is currently undergoing a mandatory 21-day analysis, looking into factors ranging from the seriousness of the crime and security issues, to the type of rehabilitation he will have to undergo.