ONE of South’s notorious criminals, Thabo Bester, only needed three days to pull off the most puzzling prison escape the country has ever seen in decades.
According to the testimony presented by the security company at the centre of the embarrassing scandal, G4S, and Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) top brass at the Justice and Correctional Service committee in parliament this morning, the convicted rapist and murderer applied to be transferred to a single cell on April 30 last year.
G4S is contracted by the Department of Correctional Service (DCDS) to manage the maximum-security prison as part of a 20-year private-public partnership contract, which is due to expire in 2026.
A DCDS controller approved his application. Three days later, Bester escaped with the help of some officials and prison warders who burned a dead body inside his prison cell, Cell 35, and claimed he had committed suicide. The criminal was then presumed dead from a raging fire that engulfed his cell.
“On 30th April in 2022, we received an application from inmate Bester, where he was requesting to be transferred to a single cell. These single cells we normally call them Broadway.
“This was (his) own request. He was not sent there for a disciplinary hearing or whatever. Procedurally, such applications are sent to the office of the controller, a representative of the DCS, and it was approved accordingly.
“Inmate Bester was placed in Cell 35. On the 2nd May 2022, at 7:30pm, after we had done the roll count… We can confirm that all the cells were locked for the night, as well as the cell of Bester.
“The next day, which was 3rd May 2022 at 4am, fire was discovered from Cell 35. It was distinguished by the MCC trained personnel. After they distinguished the fire, the cell was cordoned off,” head of MCC Joseph Mnyanti told the committee.
Mnyanti, appearing alongside G4S regional commercial director for Africa Cobus Groenewoud and G4S audit and risk head Gert Beyleveld, said various officials, including a nurse and a doctor from a private contractor arrived shortly before 5am.
“The doctor examined the body and certified inmate Bester to be dead,” he said.
The director said a police forensic team arrived, conducted an investigation, took photos and removed the body from the cell.
Mnyanti said the body was taken to the mortuary for a post mortem.
He said the team also found an authorised laptop and an unauthorised cell phone.
Later the prison officials did a head count and found that all 2 928 inmates were accounted for, excluding the body that had been retrieved.
“On 4th May 2022, we received a notice of death for inmate Bester where the pathologist certified the inmate, which we received from the Department of Health.
“Staff picked up a smell of petrol from inmate Bester’s belongings. On 6th May the Department of Home Affairs issued a death certificate for Bester. Two days later SAPS forensics returned to MCC recovered from Cell 35.
The committee hearing continues. Bester, who escaped custody from the Mangaung Correctional Service Centre in the Free State a year ago after faking suicide, was finally traced in east Africa with his accomplices Dr Nandipha Magudumana, and Mozambican national Zakaria Alberto.
Two other alleged accomplices, Magudumana’s father Zolile Cornelius Sekeleni (65) and former G4S employee, Senate Ishmael Motsoara (39), appeared before the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court yesterday on charges of murder.
According to the charge sheet, the duo allegedly “unlawfully and intentionally” killed an “unknown adult male” in Bloemfontein on March 3 last year. They are believed to have assisted Bester to escape from prison.