/ 17 April 2023

SAPS ignore evidence of Magudumana’s lavish trips

Unnamed (1)
Nandipha Magudumana. Photo: Supplied

Nandipha Magudumana, who is facing charges of murder and aiding Thabo Bester’s escape, used Bester’s alias to book accommodation in Bloemfontein and Ballito in the weeks leading up to the escape. More than R120,000 was spent on these bookings.

The police were informed — by both the property manager and GroundUp — of an invoice for a luxury hotel in Bloemfontein over a week ago. The invoice was left behind in the Hyde Park property where Magudumana and Bester were staying. The police raided the house but didn’t enter a section of the property with the invoice and Magudumana’s diary. As of Friday the police had not sent anyone to pick up the invoice and diary, nor had they contacted the hotel in question.

Thabo Bester escaped from Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein on 3 May 2022, after faking his death in a fire in his prison cell. He sometimes used the alias “TK Nkwana” and used a fake ID in that name to sign lease agreements while in prison. 

In the two months before the escape, an Airbnb profile in the name of “TK Nkwana” was used to make at least 10 bookings at luxury properties in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

One of these bookings was for a mansion in an estate in Ballito Bay, in KwaZulu-Natal, from 12-14 March 2022. The Airbnb host told GroundUp that he spoke to a man called “TK” on the phone before the booking. The booking cost R18,000.

According to the Airbnb host, “TK” provided the names and ID numbers of four people to stay in the house. Magudumana’s ID number was provided, but she used the name “Dr Enjoy Magudumana Nkwana”. Three others were also registered, two of whom were co-directors of Magudumana’s company, Vibes Africa International.

It is understood that Magudumana’s children also stayed at the house, but did not have to provide their ID numbers because they were underage.

A week and a half later, on 24 March 2022, Magudumana checked in at a luxury hotel in Bloemfontein, which is a 30-minute drive from Mangaung Correctional Centre. She provided a copy of her ID upon check-in. But the booking, which had been made online, was under TK Nkwana.

The manager of the hotel told GroundUp that Magudumana made a second visit to the hotel on 13-14 April. The second booking was also made by “TK Nkwana”.

The police (SAPS) confirmed in Parliament on Thursday that Magudumana claimed three bodies from the state morgue in Bloemfontein, one of which was the body that was found in Bester’s prison cell. The Sunday Times previously reported that this took place in early April.

G4S, the multinational company that operates and partly owns the prison, told Parliament on Wednesday that Bester received regular visits from Magudumana, starting in 2017. The last recorded visit was in December 2021. But the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) said that Magudumana had made an appointment to see Bester on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2022. This appointment was later cancelled.

On 15 April 2022, the day after Magudumana checked out of the hotel in Bloemfontein, Bester applied to be held in a single cell due to safety concerns. But he later withdrew his application. JICS told Parliament that during their investigation they were informed by an inmate that Bester had received a secret, unrecorded visit on 16 April.

Magudumana again checked in at the Ballito accommodation on 19 April and stayed for 11 nights, this time accompanied by three others, one of whom was a co-director of Vibes Africa International. The booking was made by “TK” (one of Bester’s aliases), who had reached out to the host directly on WhatsApp. The eleven-night stay cost a total of R90,800. It was booked well in advance and paid for on 23 March.

On 28 April 2022, Bester successfully applied to be held in a single cell and was moved. On 3 May, a fire broke out in his cell, a body was burnt, and he escaped from the prison. Two days later, on 5 May, Magudumana claimed the body from the state morgue, saying she was Bester’s customary law wife.

Magudumana left the country via the Beitbridge border post on 9 May. This was revealed by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Friday. She returned to South Africa on 12 May.

In the months after Thabo Bester’s escape, the Airbnb account was used at least another 10 times, with the last booking in February 2023. GroundUp understands that the estate in Ballito, where Magudumana stayed, was inspected by the Hawks in early April.

Could Bester have visited Magudumana in the Bloemfontein hotel?

We asked two prison officials at Mangaung Correctional Centre whether it would have been possible for Bester to leave the prison for brief stints. One official said that Bester often required mental health treatment and that prisoners would occasionally have to go to an external hospital. In December 2022, another inmate at MCC escaped while in the hospital.

But another official, who has worked in the admissions department since 2013, which records all hospital visits by prisoners, said he had no recollection of Bester ever leaving the prison. He says the system was watertight and it would have been almost impossible for Bester to leave the prison. But G4S told Parliament on Wednesday that according to the prison’s records, Bester visited an outside specialist five times in 2015 and once in 2016.

G4S, the company that operates the prison, and the Department of Correctional Services did not respond to our questions. A spokesperson for SAPS, Colonel Athlenda Mathe, said: “We cannot provide blow-by-blow feedback of the evidence gathered and collected thus far. We request space for the detectives to do their work without undue pressure and expectation.”

This article was first published by GroundUp.