The acting director-general of the Government Communication and Information System, Phumla Williams, says that the sentencing of the two men convicted of forcing a man into a coffin "has restored hope in the country's criminal justice system".
Arguably, however, it has undermined that system in that the sentences imposed are heavier than the crime itself warrants. One of the men, Theo Martins Jackson, was given a sentence of 19 years' imprisonment, of which five were suspended, so that his effective sentence is 14 years. The other, Willem Oosthuizen, was given 16 years of which five were suspended, leaving an effective sentence of 11 years.
The main charge on which the two were convicted by the High Court, sitting in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, was attempted murder. They had forced Victor Mlotshwa into a coffin and threatened to pour petrol on him. The judge, Segopotje Sheila Mphahlele, said their behaviour showed they had intended to kill him.
The fear and terror that Mr Mlotshwa must have experienced defy description. That this was a wicked, depraved, and callous crime is beyond dispute.
The sentences are nevertheless disproportionate. Last year Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to six years' imprisonment for the murder his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in 2013. In 2005 four youths, the so-called Waterkloof Four, were given 12 years for killing a man in Moreleta Park in Pretoria in 2001. Their victim was never identified. The magistrate who convicted them described them as "callous, cowardly killers without a shred of remorse, humanity, or conscience". This was, he added, "an inter-racial incident." An academic at the University of South Africa said that the sentence was "a bit on the harsh side, taking into account their ages (16) at the time the crime was committed". Others thought the sentence too light.
In the Middelburg case, nobody was killed. Yet the sentences are more than twice as heavy as that imposed on Mr Pretorius for murder. The sentence imposed on Mr Jackson in the Middelburg case is heavier than that handed down to the Waterkloof Four for murder. The sentence imposed on Mr Oosthuizen is only a year lighter than that handed down to the Waterkloof Four for murder.