/ 11 April 2023

Suspects linked to Thabo Bester face charges of murder, fraud

Thabo Bester
Wanted: Thabo Bester was seen on TV during a court appearance. The police have not released a photograph or description of the fugitive. Photo: Shelly Christians/Gallo Images

Two suspects arrested in connection with the escape of fugitive Thabo Bester and his accomplice Nandipha Magudumana are facing charges that include murder and fraud.

Former G4S employee Senohe Ishmael Matsoara, 39, and Zolile Cornelius Sikelele, 65, who is Magudumana’s father, appeared in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Tuesday morning. 

They each face four charges including murder, assisting an inmate to escape and defeating the ends of justice. Matsoara is separately charged with arson and Sikelele with fraud.

The matter was postponed to 17 April for possible bail applications, said Phaladi Shuping, a spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority.

National police commissioner Fannie Masemola said in a statement on Monday that the possibility of more arrests could not be ruled out.

Matsoara and Sikelele were arrested over the weekend in two separate operations. Sikelele was arrested on Friday in Port Edward on the South Coast, the same day that his daughter and Bester were detained in Tanzania.

Convicted rapist and murderer Bester and Magudumana were identified and arrested in Arusha, a tourist destination in northern Tanzania. Mozambican Zakaria Alberto, believed to have assisted the two to cross international borders, was also picked up.

Police Minister Bheki Cele and Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola confirmed the arrests during a media briefing on Saturday. Lamola said a delegation was being sent to Tanzania to help arrange for Bester and his accomplice’s deportations.  

The delegation, led by the police’s deputy national commissioner responsible for policing, Tebello Mosikili, arrived in Arusha on Monday.

“The team is currently engaged with their Tanzanian counterparts to finalise all legal processes required towards bringing escapee Thabo Bester and his accomplices to justice in South Africa,” police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said.

Dubbed the “Facebook Rapist”, Bester has been on the run from authorities after news broke that he had staged his death and escaped from the Mangaung prison run by multinational security company G4S in May 2022. GroundUp, which broke the story, wrote on 15 March this year that there are doubts about the claim that Bester died in a fire at Mangaung prison in May 2022. Nearly a year after Bester’s escape, the department for correctional services has confirmed the body found burned beyond recognition in prison was not his.

Meanwhile, the department and G4S are scheduled to appear before parliament’s portfolio committee on justice on Wednesday and Thursday.

It was decided at a meeting in parliament last week that G4S would be subpoenaed to lead the first presentation into Bester’s escape. The security company had sought protection under the Privileges and Immunities Act before disclosing information on the matter.

The correctional services department took control of the Mangaung prison days after Bester’s escape was confirmed.