The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) is shocked at further revelations that Thabo Bester was aided by officials to spend a weekend away at a five-star hotel with his girlfriend, Dr Nandipha Magudumana, shortly before his escape on 4 May 2022. This indicates the level of bribery and corruption at the Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) that culminated in Bester’s escape. The ACDP has also lamented the delays in alerting the public to the escape by Bester.
After two days of presentations and intensive questioning by the members of the Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee (“the Portfolio Committee”) last week, it became apparent that G4S, the Department of Correctional Services (“DCS”), the South African Police Service (“SAPS”), had failed dismally not only in preventing the escape, but then in not alerting the public that a serial rapist and murderer, Thabo Bester, had escaped. To further aggravate matters, G4S consistently held to the view that Bester had died in a fire at the facility, despite overwhelming evidence that he had escaped. This was a carefully planned and executed escape from a maximum security prison, and it is clear that Bester was assisted by a number of G4S and other officials, some of whom have been suspended and dismissed. It was probably these same officials who had sneaked Bester out of the maximum security prison, presumably for a price, to spend a weekend with Dr Magudumana.
The facility was placed under the management of the department in terms of section 112 of the Correctional Services Act, after it found that the G4S director of the MCC had, amongst other factors, lost effective control of the facility.
During the Parliamentary Inquiry last week, the ACDP severely criticised G4S, the DCS, SAPS and JICS for not advising the public that a serial rapist and murderer had escaped way back in 2022. This, despite being in possession of post-mortem and DNA test results indicating that Bester had not died in the fire at the facility.
While a case of escape was registered with the SAPS on 12 January 2023, the National Commissioner only activated a DCS team to work with the SAPS to track, trace and re-arrest the offender on 24 March 2023. This lack of action from May 2022 to March 2023, despite credible evidence available, placed the lives of vulnerable women and children at risk. Justice and Correctional Services. Minister Lamola correctly apologised to the nation for this serious lapse.
The ACDP believes that many more questions and issues have arisen following the Parliament’s preliminary inquiry. These include whether more senior officials and management were involved in the escape; who the person was that was murdered and whose body was then burnt in the cell; how Bester managed to run a business from the facility and spent a weekend at a five-star hotel; how deep is the corruption, contraband and criminality at the MCC (and at other facilities); whether life-style audits were (or should be) conducted on all officials and management, both from G4S and DCS at the MCC and other facilities; and what can be done to strengthen JICS to ensure far more speedy responses from DCS to its findings and recommendations.
While the ACDP welcomes the placing of the MCC under administration in terms of section 112 of the Correctional Services Act, the National Commissioner of DCS will need to consider whether the contract regarding the MCC facility, which is due to come to an end in 2026, can and should be terminated earlier, given this severe security breach and other factors.
Despite the findings and recommendations of the Jali Commission of Inquiry in 2006 prisons remains beset by the same problems the commission was established to address: overcrowding, corruption, possession of contraband, impunity, and rights violations. The ACDP calls on government to do far more to stop criminality and escapes at prisons. This escape, and the manner in which it has been dealt with, brings into question the whole administration of justice, particularly where a dangerous serial rapist and murderer is assisted by officials to escape from a maximum security prison.
The ACDP commends certain outstanding SAPS officials, including the Free State Brigadier who ensured the North Gauteng High Court application by Dr Nandipha Magudumana to gain access to the charred body was successfully opposed. There were also various other investigating officers who performed their duties in an exemplary manner. We also commend SAPS for the arrest of Bester and Dr Nandipha Magudumana in Tanzania, albeit that these arrests could have taken place earlier had the authorities acted quicker. Ongoing investigations will, we trust, lead to the arrest and prosecution of more persons involved in this escape.
Lastly, the ACDP commends the excellent work done by investigative journalists at Groundup who, in several explosive media reports, cast doubts about the suicide report, and raised the alarm about the possible escape. These reports caused a public outcry and forced the authorities to act more speedily, leading to the arrest of Bester and his alleged accomplice, Dr Magudumana. The country owes them a deep debt of gratitude.