A South African appeals court on Friday acquitted two white farmers jailed over the 2017 murder of a black teenager they suspected of stealing sunflowers.
Pieter Doorewaard and Philip Schutte were found guilty two years ago of killing 15-year-old Mathlomola Mosweu on April 20, 2017, after claiming they caught him taking plants from a remote farm in the North West province.
In March last year, a high court sentenced Doorewaard to 18 years in prison and Schutte was handed a 23-year term.
The men were granted bail eight months later and appealed their convictions directly to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), which ruled in their favour on Friday.
“The convictions and sentences are set aside,” said the SCA in a judgement seen by AFP. “Both accused are found not guilty and discharged.”
Mosweu died when he fell out of a moving vehicle driven by the pair and broke his neck.
The men claim the boy jumped off the truck to escape as they took him to the police. But Schutte was found guilty of deliberately throwing him overboard.
SCA judges, however, found the evidence provided was contradictory.
The prosecution “did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” said the judgement.
At the time, Mosweu’s death sparked rioting and looting of white-owned businesses in the nearby town of Coligny.
Racially charged incidents between white farm owners and managers and poor black farmhands are not uncommon in South Africa.
In 2016, two white farmers in the eastern Mpumalanga province forced a black man into a coffin for suspected trespassing.
The case sparked outrage after a video of the incident emerged on social media and the two were handed jail terms of 19 and 16 years.