The story of Mzansi’s very own Houdini’s great escape remains one of the biggest news stories to captivate South Africans in recent times and as the authorities push to nail all those who helped him flee and live undetected for almost a year – the case promises to lay bare details of corruption, incompetence, bribery and fraud within South Africa’s criminal justice system.
The Facebook rapist and murderer Thabo Bester’s prison break with the alleged assistance of his well-established lover, Dr Nandipha Magudumane, revealed a spiderweb of unexpected role players who had either brushed shoulders with the pair or had fallen victim to the couple’s cunning ways.
Bester escaped from the privately-run maximum prison, the Mangaung Correctional Centre in May 2022, after faking his death by setting fire to his cell. He also planted a body that’s now been confirmed to having been that of Katlego Bereng Mpholo, whose cause of death remains a mystery due to alleged conflicting reports on it.
It is suspected that former G4S employee, Senohe Matsoara, who is also on trial for assisting Bester make a break for it, could be the link. Mpholo’s father has told journalists that his son had a close relationship with Motsoara.
Investigations into Bester’s shenanigans resumed in late March last year after non-profit news agency which focuses on human rights issues, GroundUp, reported that the rapist and murderer had been spotted shopping at a popular retailer in Sandton.
The state’s alleged snail pace in investigating the claims and the secrecy over it continue to have tongues wagging and many South Africans concerned. It’s raised questions on how many other Besters could be out there and what more crimes he could have continued to carry out, undetected, had the whistleblowers who gave GroundUp the heads-up had not done so.
The case, which was initially heard at a lower court, will resume for a pre-trial in the High Court in Bloemfontein on the 21st of next month amid suspicions that more high profile South Africans might have assisted Bester escape prison where he was serving life for the rape and murder of his then girlfriend, Nomfundo Tyhulu.
By then he had a 2011 rape and robbery conviction of two other women he had lured through Facebook.
Bester has roped in advocates Dali Mpofu and Zandile Mshololo, into his legal team.
Mshololo is also representing one of the accused in the Senzo Meyiwa murder case.
‘Bonnie and Clyde’
After staying off the radar for close to a year, Bester and his 34-year-old girlfriend, Dr Magudumana, were finally arrested in Tanzania in April.
The love birds were nabbed in the wee hours of the night, along with a Mozambican national, who was allegedly assisting them.
Police believe the trio was intending to flee into neighbouring Kenya as they were found with multiple passports in their possession.
Disgraced Dr Magudumana is alleged to have smuggled Mpholo’s body into the prison with the help of several prison officials.
This shocking revelation has infuriated many South Africans, with prisoners’ rights activist, Miles Bhudu, calling for Correctional Services Minister, Ronald Lamola’s head.
He accuses him of having failed to give the matter the urgency it needed.
Government severed ties with Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC), the consortium that’s contracted G4S to run the maximum prison where Bester escaped.
The Correctional Services Department said it believed the company was not suitable to continue with the contract following its handling of the scandal.
In April, G4S left Members of Parliament hopping mad after it told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services that CCTV cameras malfunctioned the night before Bester’s escape, allowing him unsupervised use of a personal laptop in prison, among others. G4S also admitted that it did not conduct a forensic investigation into Bester’s escape.
The 22-year-old contract with the global security company, which was supposed to end in August, was extended by three months in September after the BCC approached the courts, claiming that it was prematurely and unfairly terminated.
The company has fired three officials over the scandal. They are all, however, contested their dismissal. Their case was before the Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
YNews spoke to SAPU’s Lesiba Thobakgale, who says workers at the facility have long complained about mistreatment.
Both police unions, POPCRU and SAPU, have welcomed government’s decision to terminate its conctract with G4S, saying it should be a warning to companies who operate within the security sphere.
The unions have been in talks with correctional services authorities in a bid to have workers absorbed into the new system.
A least 12 people were arrested in connection with Bester’s brazen escape, including Dr Magudumana’s father and former G4S employees.
While charges have been dropped against three of them, the remaining accused face various charges, including fraud, corruption, assisting an inmate to escape, violation of the body, arson, and defeating the ends of justice.
Titbits on Bester
Bester was officially issued with a South African ID and Birth Certificate in May after years of no identity and a year after faking his death.
Briefing the media Home Affairs Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, said the Facebook rapist and murderer’s name had been entered into the National Population Register, thus ending many years of his status as an unidentified person.
Subtle jeers and cheers filled the courtroom as he walked in to sit next to Magudumana, who clung to his hand while whispering into his ear.
Bester’s lawyer provided the court with a list of officers who should know about the fugitive’s alleged missing items, which include a marriage ring worth R350,000; a Louis Vuitton laptop bag worth R51,000; an Iphone 14 Pro Max worth R36 000; Samsung S23 worth R32 000; Samsung Z4 worth R40 000 and an iPod 16 worth R18 000.
Bester’s lawyer also told the court that there is a significant amount of cash that is missing.
“R295 000, 36 000 US dollars, seven million in Tanzanian currency, 1.4 million in Zambian currency, 500 000 European Pounds.”
It is alleged that Bester reported all the missing items at the Lanseria Police Station.
The brazen criminal has also complained about being ill-treated at the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre, where he is detained.
Fight for freedom
His 34-year-old girlfriend has on the other hand been fighting to get her freedom since her arrest, arguing that her arrest in Tanzania was unlawful.
Written by: Nokwazi Qumbisa