JOHANNESBURG — White extremists who set off a series of bombs and plotted to overthrow the South African government and kill Nelson Mandela were given jail terms Tuesday, ending the first
major treason trial under postapartheid laws.
The sentences for up to 20 defendants between the ages of 32 and 74 ranged from 5 to 35 years. Some will be released on suspended sentences, while the leaders will serve the longest terms.
Members of the Afrikaner extremist group Boeremag, or White Farmer Force, were convicted of treason last year for a plot, in the late 1990s and early 2000, to violently overthrow South Africa’s government. The African National Congress formed the government when Mandela was elected to office in 1994 to bring an end to white minority rule.
Some members were also convicted of culpable homicide and conspiring to murder for a thwarted plan to kill Mandela. The group claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that killed a woman and caused damage throughout the Johannesburg township of Soweto in 2002.
Judge Eben Jordaan handed out the sentences in Pretoria to end the decade-long trial, which has cost the country millions. Most sentences were suspended by 10 years and due to time served since around 2002, nine of the defendants will go home Wednesday, said National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku.
‘‘For those that are going free, it’s not really freedom because they will serve their sentences at home,’’ he said.
Simasiku said the trial will set a major precedent.
‘‘This is our first major case that involves terrorism and treason under the new democratic dispensation,’’ he said, meaning the laws of post-apartheid South Africa.