PRETORIA, South Africa — A South African court began sentencing Monday 20 right-wing extremists convicted of high treason for a plot to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country.
The "Boeremag" organization had planned a right-wing coup in 2002 to overthrow the post-apartheid government.
The trial lasted almost a decade until the organization's members were convicted in August last year — the first guilty verdicts for treason since the end of apartheid in 1994.
"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 taking place 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.
The state is seeking life sentences for the group's leaders and bomb specialists, and 10 to 15 years in prison for the other defendants.
South Africa does not have the death sentence.
"We are hoping for a good conviction," said Paul Ramoloka, spokesman for specialist police unit the Hawks, who investigated the plot.
Security was tight around the courtroom, with police carrying out body searches of the public.
The Boeremag — Afrikaans for "Boer Force", a reference to the descendants of the first Dutch colonizers — had planned to sow chaos through bomb blasts then take over military bases, replace the government with white military rule and chase all blacks and Indians from the country.
Far-right organization the Boer Republicans bussed in its members to support the defendants during sentencing.
"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."
The sentences are expected to be handed down on Tuesday.