/ 14 April 2023

Thabo Bester is back, but who will keep him behind bars?

Senohe Matsoare
In the dock: Senohe Matsoare, a former G4S employee, appears in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on April 11 after it was alleged that insiders assisted in the escape of rapist and murderer Thabo Bester from the Mangaung prison. Photo: Mlungisi Louw/Gallo Images


Escaped murderer and rapist Thabo Bester and his — actual — partner in crime, celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana, are back in our fair Republic and in the custody of the state.

It’s a relief that Bester is back behind bars — hopefully for good, this time — courtesy of a switched-on Tanzanian constabulary, and that his accomplices are being arrested, one by one, by the South African Police Service.

Bester’s Hyde Park holiday is over, along with his dash across the border, and now it’s time for him — and the people who helped him escape and those who covered up his escape for nearly a year — to pay the price.


A good few international borders were crossed between Bloemfontein and Arusha, so a fair number of bent individuals in several nations have a case to answer before the final credits roll on this whole sordid drama.

One wonders what would have happened had Bester and Magdumama made it across the Tanzanian border into Kenya. How many more people would have been conned — or killed — before their luck finally ran out?

Or if Bester had stayed put in his luxurious hideout instead of going shopping at Woolies in Sandton, a mistake which is understood to have sparked their run for the border.

Or if the person who blew the whistle about Bester’s faked death and escape had — like those responsible for keeping him in jail — simply shut their mouth and carried on with their lives, instead of doing the right thing.

Like many of my fellow South Africans, I spent most of Wednesday — or at least the parts of it with electricity — glued to the screen for multinational private security company G4S’s appearance before parliament, to explain why — and how — they allowed Bester to escape from the Mangaung Correctional Centre.

It was hard going, in particular for the G4S team whose gig for the day was to defend the indefensible, to try to talk their way out of the hole they dug for themselves, not only by giving Bester a get out of jail free card but also by doing little more than ticking the requisite boxes afterwards.

They tried their best to skip through the really twisted part — the bit about a body being brought into the prison and torched in Bester’s cell; how they permitted this to take place and why this was covered up — but team G4S was already unravelling.

The body was burned — destroyed, obliterated, like a piece of paper — to facilitate Bester’s escape; their humanity and their identity erased to allow a rapist and murderer to escape, as if they were nothing, as if they never even existed.

This appeared to be lost on the G4S team, who tried to cling to their script throughout the day-long hearing, arguing that they did what was required of them in the aftermath of their prisoner’s disappearance.

It was a particularly rough day at the office ahead for team G4S before parliament was done with them, and rightly so, but one anticipates that rougher days are coming for the security contractor —at least when it comes to running prisons on behalf of the department of correctional services.

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola looked aghast as the G4S representatives tried to protect the company — and its contracts — while throwing its junior employees under the bus.

Rightly so, but Lamola’s department also has a case to answer, particularly about why it continued to deny that Bester had escaped and faked his death after GroundUp broke the story and confronted them about it, all those months ago.

The department’s priority appears to have been saving face and avoiding admitting that Bester had indeed escaped from Mangaung, rather than using every avenue at its disposal — including the media — to track him down and deal with the people who helped him escape.

Now that Bester is back in prison, the question arises as to who is going to keep him under lock and key and make sure he doesn’t escape again?

It appears G4S can’t be trusted to do the job and the department of correctional services doesn’t appear to be able to do it — or to want to — otherwise it wouldn’t have been paying a contractor to run its prisons in the first place.

Perhaps we all need to volunteer and take turns at guarding him ourselves, just to make sure that Bester does, actually, serve his time in jail.