/ 11 July 2023

State expects to call about 18 witnesses in Bester escape case

Joel Makhetha
Joel Makhetha and his lawyer Tshepo Thusi at the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Tuesday, where Makhetha was granted bail of R10,000. Photo: by Becker Semela

At least 18 witnesses have been called to testify in the state’s court case into Thabo Bester’s escape, the Bloemfontein Magistrates court heard on Tuesday.

Another accused has been released on bail.

Former G4S prison officials Joel Makhetha and Moeketsi Ramolula were arrested two weeks ago for their alleged involvement in Bester’s escape from Mangaung prison in May 2022. They face charges related to the violation of a body, aiding an inmate’s escape, and corruption. Both were custody officers and were suspended by G4S earlier this year.

During their bail hearing on Tuesday, Ramolula’s attorney Adriaan Janse van Rensburg told the court that his client had decided to abandon his bail application.

Makhetha’s attorney, Tshepo Thusi, told the court that his client lives with his partner in Botshabelo in Mangaung, and that he has four children aged nine to 24, for whom he is financially responsible. He said that Makhetha was suspended with pay and earns R17,244 per month, and that he has no previous convictions or pending cases.

In his affidavit, Makhetha said, “I have strong emotional ties here in Botshabelo and it is highly unlikely that I will evade my trial. I was arrested at home and I fully cooperated with the police upon my arrest…I do not know the identity of the state witnesses. Should their identities be revealed to me, I undertake not to tamper with state witnesses.”

Makhetha has handed his passport over to the police and intends to oppose the charges brought against him, Thusi said.

The prosecutor, advocate Sello Matlhoko, did not oppose Makhetha’s bail application. He also gave Thusi a list of 18 witnesses whom he said had already provided statements.

“[Thusi] confirmed that the witnesses who have already made statements are unknown to the accused. So, there is no likelihood of him interfering with the witnesses… There’s about 18 witnesses that he is forbidden from communicating or interfering with,” Matlhoko told the court.

Magistrate Estelle de Lange said Makhetha faces Schedule 5 charges.

To determine whether it is in the interest of justice to release Makhetha on bail, De Lange said, “I must take into account Section 64 of the Criminal Procedure Act”. This section deals with whether the bail applicant is a flight risk; whether or not the applicant may attempt to influence or intimidate witnesses, jeopardise the functioning of the criminal justice system, disturb the public order or undermine the public peace or security should they be released on bail.

“I find that none of these factors are present in this application,” she said, and granted Makhetha bail of R10,000.

Makhetha’s bail conditions prohibit him from contacting any witnesses. He may not leave Bloemfontein without the permission of the investigating officer, and must report to the Bloemspruit police station every Monday between 8am and 4pm.

To date, 12 people stand accused in the Bester escape saga and are expected to appear together in court on 8 August. They face a total of 16 charges.