White extremists who set off a series of bombs, plotted to overthrow the South African government and kill Nelson Mandela were given jail terms Tuesday, ending the first major treason trial under post-apartheid laws that many hope will deter future radicals.
The sentences for the 20 defendants ranged from five years to 35 years. Some will be released on suspended sentences, while the leaders will serve the longest terms.
The trial against the Boeremag, or Africaaner power, organization lasted almost a decade until the organization's members were convicted in August last year.
"The accused had aimed to overthrow the government through unconstitutional methods that included violence," said High Court judge Eben Jordaan as he began the two-day sentencing hearing.
"They planned a violent attack against people of color that would certainly be followed by retaliation attacks against whites as a result," Jordaan said at the hearing in the same Pretoria courtroom where Mandela was convicted of treason in 1964.
One woman died and dozens of people were injured in blasts that shook the Johannesburg township of Soweto in October 2002.
All 20 accused were convicted of treason, but only five of murder and the plot to kill Nobel peace laureate Mandela, South Africa's first black president.
In 2006 two defendants escaped from court during a recess and were on the run for months, hiding on a farm, before being re-arrested.
Five years later the same pair, along with three others, escaped from the courtroom again, but were captured just minutes later.
The Boeremag had planned to sow chaos through bomb blasts, and then take over military bases, replace the government with white military rule and chase all black people and Indians from the country.
The group included a medical doctor, academics, former soldiers and farmers.
Its leader and plot mastermind Mike du Toit "hid behind lies" that considerably delayed the marathon trial, Jordaan said. Today, du Toit received one of the longest sentences — 30 years.
"During all these proceedings I have not found an ounce of evidence indicating his regret," Jordaan said.
Far-right organization the Boer Republicans bussed in its members to support the defendants during the sentencing hearings.
"I support them 100 percent because their plan was right," the group's leader Piet Rudolph told AFP. "Our people are being oppressed, we are servants, and people should revolt against that."
Al Jazeera and wire services