22 March 2023
On 11 June 2022, a prison warder at Mangaung Correctional Center sent an email to the Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Phathekile Holomisa, asking: “Are you aware that the inmate who ‘allegedly’ burnt to death at Mangaung Correctional Center was supposedly assisted to escape by the Mangaung Correctional Center & Department of Correctional Services officials at the prison to escape?”
The prisoner in question was Thabo Bester, known as the ‘Facebook rapist’, who was serving a life sentence for murder and a series of rapes.
The Department of Correctional Services reported that Bester died in Mangaung Correctional Centre at about 3:35am on 3 May 2022. The official version was that Bester set himself alight in his cell. The facility is managed by multinational security company G4S.
GroundUp has since reported evidence indicating that the body found in the cell was not Bester’s and that Bester in fact escaped. He has been spotted in public several times since the supposed date of his death. The body in the cell has not been identified but that person who died suffered blunt force trauma before being set alight, according to a coroner’s report. A police docket related to the case was changed from suicide to murder.
Months after his June email, on 8 November, the warder sent another email to Holomisa:
“Good Day Sir, I informed you of the Thabo Bester escape [in] my previous email … your office & … the DCS [have] ignored my emails notifying you of this.”
It appears no action was taken following the warder’s emails.
Yet, according to Justice Ministry spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, the deputy minister is unable to locate the emails in question, but they’re doing all they can to track them.
The warder said that after reporting the alleged “cover up” to the deputy minister, he was victimised and later transferred from the facility.
“It’s not the first incident that I’ve reported. I sent him [deputy minister] a number of emails about the gang stabbings, corruption and treatment of inmates,” the warder told GroundUp.
Holomisa had previously replied to an email sent to him by the warder on 19 April 2022. That email dealt with conditions at the prison.
The warder added that it was an “open secret” that the body in Cell 35, was not that of Bester and “I informed the [deputy] minister … the way the whole [crime scene] thing was handled, no protocol was followed. There [were] too many red flags and we [colleagues] suspect this was an inside job from night shift [staff].”
Claims made by the warder about the events of the night of Bester’s escape corroborate with other sources we spoke to. GroundUp is piecing together a timeline of the events of 3 May and intends to publish it in due course.