Rugby players given 18 years' jail for murder

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A Pretoria High Court sentenced two white South African rugby players to 18 years in jail yesterday for killing a 19-year-old black man last year, in a case that has stirred deep racial tensions.

Judge Bernard Ngoepe described Tshepo Matloha's killing by Riaan Botha and Ben Korff as "vicious and cowardly", but none the less refused to endorse the racism factor, saying the state had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that racist feelings had motivated the killing.

Black protesters outside the court insisted the killing had been racially motivated and railed against what they perceived as light sentences. They threatened to seize white-owned farms in the Dendron area in northern South Africa, where the murder took place, as revenge.

Botha and Korff were found guilty two weeks ago of murdering Mr Matloha on 25 March last year. He was beaten to death after he was caught hunting rabbits on Botha's family game farm.

Three other rugby players, Kobus Joubert, Francois Velloen and Corne Kloppers, were acquitted of murder. Joubert and Botha were sentenced to four years for trying to defeat justice by throwing Mr Matloha's body into a crocodile- infested dam, where it was found a week later. Botha's two jail terms are to run concurrently. Judge Ngoepe recommended that Botha and Korff serve at least two-thirds of their sentences before being considered for parole.

Mr Matloha's mother, Maria, told the court during the trial that she had not forgiven the rugby playersand asked for life sentences for them. "He was still a little child," she said, comparing his size to that of he burly Botha and Korff.

Judge Ngoepe condemned the rugby players for the "contempt" they showed by dumping Mr Matloha's body. "They showed no respect for the deceased when he was alive or when he was dead," he said.