PRETORIA: A South African court began Monday sentencing 20 right-wing extremists convicted of high treason for a plot to kill Nelson Mandela and drive blacks out of the country.
The "Boeremag" organisation had planned a right-wing coup in 2002 to overthrow the post-apartheid government.
The trial lasted almost a decade until the organisation's members were convicted in August last year -- the first guilty verdicts for treason since the end of apartheid in 1994.
"The accused had aimed to overthrow the government through unconstitutional methods that included violence," said High Court judge Eben Jordaan as he began the two-day sentencing hearing.
"They planned a violent attack against people of colour that would certainly be followed by retaliation attacks against whites as a result," Jordaan said at the hearing in the same Pretoria courtroom where Mandela was convicted of treason in 1964.
One woman died and dozens of people were injured in blasts that shook the Johannesburg township of Soweto in October 2002.
All 20 accused were convicted of treason, but only five of murder and the plot to kill Nobel peace laureate Mandela, South Africa's first black president.
The state is seeking life sentences for the group's leaders and bomb specialists, and 10 to 15 years in prison for the other defendants.
The state's legal costs have run to over $3 million, according to the Pretoria News.
South Africa does not have the death sentence.
"We are hoping for a good conviction," said Paul Ramoloka, spokesman for specialist police unit the Hawks, who investigated the plot.
Security was tight around the courtroom after daring escapes by some of the suspects during the trial. Police carried out body searches of members of the public entering the courtroom.
In 2006 two defendants escaped from court during a recess and were on the run for months, hiding on a farm, before being re-arrested.
Five years later the same pair, along with three others, escaped from the courtroom again, but were captured just minutes later.
The Boeremag -- Afrikaans for "Boer Force", a reference to the descendants of the first Dutch colonisers -- had planned to sow chaos through bomb blasts then take over military bases, replace the government with white military rule and chase all blacks and Indians from the country.
The group included a medical doctor, academics, former soldiers and farmers.
Its leader and plot mastermind Mike du Toit "hid behind lies" that considerably delayed the marathon trial, Jordaan said.
"During all these proceedings I have not found an ounce of evidence indicating his regret," he added.
Far-right organisation the Boer Republicans bussed in its members to support the defendants during the sentencing hearings.
"I support them 100 percent because their plan was right," the group's leader Piet Rudolph told AFP.
"Our people are being oppressed, we are servants, and people should revolt against that."
The sentences are expected to be handed down on Tuesday.