A South African court has convicted a pastor of plotting to overthrow the government and murder thousands of Black South Africans.
Harry Johannes Knoesen, 61, a National Christian Resistance Movement leader, was found guilty on Monday of high treason, incitement to carry out violent attacks, and recruiting people to commit attacks.
According to the prosecution, Knoesen’s group considered using a biological weapon to infect and kill Black people, including poisoning water reservoirs that served Black communities. The Middelburg High Court also found Knoesen guilty of unlawful possession of firearms. When he was apprehended in Middelburg, a small town in the eastern Mpumalanga province, weapons and ammunition were discovered.
The pastor’s group’s plot was thwarted in 2019 by South Africa’s police and intelligence services, who dismantled the organization’s cells across the country and arrested some of its leaders.
Knoesen was convicted based on evidence from witnesses, including members of his group who are already in prison for similar crimes. According to the state, Knoesen’s plot was motivated by his “highly racial views,” and he attempted to justify his beliefs on religious grounds, claiming that he was ordained to “reclaim South Africa for white people.”
“To further this end, he planned to attack government institutions and more specifically police and military institutions,” Monica Nyuswa, a National Prosecuting Authority spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.
He also named townships and informal settlements inhabited by Black South Africans as potential targets, she said.
Knoesen allegedly used Facebook to incite violence against Black people and to recruit former South African military personnel to join his movement and carry out the planned attacks. These were thwarted when he was apprehended in November 2019, and the cells were dismantled across the country.
According to the Middelburg Observer newspaper, Knoesen admitted in his testimony to sharing “recipes” for making explosives with his Facebook followers.
This is not the first racist and treasonous plot discovered in South Africa.
Twenty members of the right-wing white supremacy group known as the Boeremag were sentenced to prison in 2013 for plotting to assassinate South Africa’s first Black president, Nelson Mandela, overthrow the government, and slaughter thousands of Black people.
Following a 10-year treason trial, one of the country’s longest in history, they were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 35 years.