JOHANNESBURG – The ringleader of a white supremacist plot to assassinate Nelson Mandela and drive black people out of South Africa has been sentenced to 35 years in jail, the national broadcaster has reported.
Former university lecturer Mike du Toit was convicted last year of treason for his leadership role in the plot, after a trial lasting nine years.
He led the Boeremag, a militia of white supremacist loyalists.
In 2002 it attempted to overthrow the governing African National Congress.
Twenty other Boeremag members convicted of high treason were given jail terms of between five and 35 years in the court in Pretoria.
In July 2012 du Toit, a former academic, was convicted for being behind nine bombings in Johannesburg's Soweto township in 2002, killing one person.
He was also found guilty of authoring a blueprint for revolution intended to evict black people from most of South Africa and establish a racially "pure" nation by killing anyone who got in the way.
Du Toit was the first person to be convicted of treason in South Africa since white minority rule ended in 1994.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison under apartheid before being elected president in 1994, and acted as a unifying force after decades of white-minority rule.
Analysts say that while race relations in South Africa are still an issue, white extremist groups like Boeremag – which means Afrikaner Power in Afrikaans – have very little support.
In December police arrested four right-wing extremists suspected of planning to bomb the national conference of the African National Congress, attended by President Jacob Zuma and other top officials.
There were gasps of disbelief on Tuesday from the families of those convicted – some relatives started sobbing when the judge handed down the sentences, media reports said.
Nearly 200 people gave evidence for the state – including police informants within Boeremag.
Two of du Toit's co-conspirators, Herman van Rooyen and Rudi Gouws – who both escaped from custody and were rearrested – were given longer sentences for their roles in planting bombs and plotting to kill Mr Mandela, local media reported.
Judge Eben Jordaan took into consideration that almost half of the accused have spent up to 11 years in jail, which means some of them were able to walk out of court on Tuesday as free men.
Correspondents say that there is hope that the sentences have brought an end to one of the longest-running and most expensive trials in South African legal history, even though there is a possibility that some will appeal.