Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Prisoner tells of the day Thabo Bester broke out of maximum security

By Genevieve Serra | Weekend Argus |

Cape Town – In the hours after Thabo Bester’s escape, prisoners were ordered to scrub his cell clean with boiling water even before forensic investigators arrived at the Mangaung Prison and secured the crime scene.

It was a cover-up, claims an inmate whose cell was on the same floor as the “Facebook Rapist”, that also involved prison officials removing evidence from the burnt-out cell where a body was discovered on May 3 last year.

In an exclusive interview with Independent Media, a Mangaung prisoner has given a blow-by-blow account of the day the fugitive escaped the maximum security facility.

Ten months later, Bester is still on the run and the Department of Correctional Services recently confirmed that the body found in corner cell number 35 was not that of the convicted murderer.

Related Articles
1 of 4

After the forced clean-up, the inmates involved were moved to other prisons across the country in what appears to have been an effort to further hide the crime.

“I will never ever forget the day, May 3, 2022 when a brigadier (name withheld) directly assisted the G4S management to tamper and delete the evidence in cell 35 Broadway isolation unit before it was declared as a crime scene,” the inmate said via email.

The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) were also notified of the incident.

“When JICS officials arrived to inspect the crime scene, they found the body was removed, when the crime scene arrived they found inmates cleaning the crime scene using boiling water according to the instructions of the security management,” the inmate said.

Before the clean-up, the inmate alleges, prison staff removed evidence that included a burnt laptop, cellphone and Puma “tekkies”.

The day of the escape was to be a strange one, recalled the inmate, filled with unexplained happenings.

Two fires broke out that night, according to the prisoner, and the smell of petrol drifted through the Broadway isolation unit.

But a supervisor told the inmate nothing was wrong and minutes later was called away to another unit to help escort prisoners to the bakery.

After he left there was a second explosion with fire and smoke. The inmate said Bester was seen to be back in cell 35.

He says he reported the fake suicide to the department and Minister of Police Bheki Cele but it was ignored.

“We phoned him (Cele) through an ex-cop who was sentenced and is at Mangaung Correctional Centre and is staying in isolation for his own safety.”

Cele’s spokesperson, Lirandzu Themba, denied the call was ever received.

“Nonsense. That’s the minister’s response to these baseless claims,” she said.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said the National Commissioner of the SAPS, General Fannie Masemola, had ordered the prioritisation of investigations into escape.

“Due to the sensitive nature of investigations into the Mangaung Correctional Centre, we request and appeal to the media and the public for space and patience to allow the team that has been appointed to apprehend this fugitive of justice and his accomplices. As indicated, the organised crime unit is leading investigations. We require space for the detectives to conduct a thorough investigation into all aspects of the case without interference and to build a watertight case that can ultimately stand in court.

“Providing blow-by-blow updates at this stage has the potential to jeopardise the investigation. The SAPS will give updates when circumstances permit.”

The inmate said Mangaung prisoners had got to know Bester as a man who was not afraid to display his wealth.

“Yes, he was running a business there. Whenever you came across him, he would have a roll of money prepared to bribe anyone,” he added.

Bester, who was serving a life sentence for rape and murder, was allegedly involved a multimillion-rand scam in which he posed as the chairperson of a company called 21st Century Media. He also promoted a “Women in Media” conference with Hollywood A-listers as “guests”. All were scams.

After his escape, he is alleged to have continued living it up in his R12 million mansion in Hyde Park north of Johannesburg.

Bester and his alleged socialite doctor girlfriend Nandipha Magudumana are said to have spent millions on property, according to recent media reports.

JICS spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said statements taken at the jail would form part of a final report and would not comment on the prisoner’s claims.

“JICS launched an investigation at Mangaung in May of 2022 after we received notification of an unnatural death at the correctional facility. JICS is finalising the investigation report on the unnatural death that was reported on May 3, 2022, and will then report to the minister and the Portfolio Committee as per the mandated reporting processes,” Cupido said.

Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said there were no new developments regarding Bester’s escape.

Meanwhile, the Isikhalo Womxn’s Movement against GBVF questioned how G4S was able to operate without proper monitoring by the Department of Correctional Services.

“Why is it that when reports surfaced of the burned dead body in the prison that the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, did not immediately conduct DNA tests to determine the accuracy of the prisoner’s identification? How was a prisoner allowed to start a fire when prisoners are not supposed to have access to matches, and who is the person who was burnt to death?”

Lamola’s office said they could not comment on how prisoners had access to cellphones and other devices or internet access.

Mathe appealed for anyone with information to call Crime Stop at 0860 010 111 or the national spokesperson at 082 040 8808. All information will be treated with confidentiality and callers may remain anonymous.