Thabo Bester escape: Court grants R10,000 bail to one of three suspended prison officers

Two other accused will return to court on 11 July for formal bail applications

By Daniel Steyn and Becker Semela

3 July 2023

Thabang Mier and his lawyer, Advocate Themba Diba (left), at the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court, where he was granted R10,000 bail on Monday. Photo: Becker Semela

One of the three former prison officials in the Thabo Bester escape saga, who made their first appearance last week, was granted bail on Monday.

During their brief appearance in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court, Thabang Mier was granted R10,000 bail, while Joel Makheta and Moeketsie Ramolula will return to court on 11 July for their formal bail application.

The trio’s arrest last week brings the number of people on trial for Thabo Bester’s escape to 12.

Mier, Makheta and Ramolula face charges related to aiding and abetting Bester’s escape in May. Makheta and Ramolula face additional charges of corruption and the violation of a body. All three were suspended by G4S earlier this year. Mier was a supervision officer and Ramolula was a custody officer at the prison.

As part of his bail conditions, Mier has surrendered his passport and will have to report to his local police station once a week.

All 12 of the accused in the case are expected to appear together in court on 8 August.

According to the State’s charge sheet, seen by GroundUp, the accused face a total of 16 charges:

Count 1: Fraud - Senohe Matsoara, Teboho Lipholo, Nandipha Magudumana, and Thabo Bester. Between 7 and 13 April 2022, the accused unlawfully claimed that an unidentified and unclaimed corpse at a local morgue was the father of Magudumana, and that they were entitled to claim, collect and bury the corpse.

Count 2: Violation of a body - Matsoara, Lipholo, Magudumana, Bester, Makheta and Ramolula. Between 12 and 29 April, it is the state’s case that the accused obtained and claimed a corpse, pretending to bury the corpse and filling the coffin with rotten meat. The corpse was discovered after it was discarded in a river.

Count 3: Corruption - Matsoara, Zolile Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, and Bester. On 14 April, the accused offered or agreed to give Lipholo R2.5-million and paid him R40,000 for disconnecting the prison’s cameras and recording system, which aided Bester’s escape.

Count 4: Corruption - Matsoara, Lipholo, and Tieho Makhotsa. On 13 April, the accused agreed to receive money from Matsoara to assist in Bester’s escape.

Count 5: Fraud - Matsoara, Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, Bester, Zanda Moyo and Motenyani Masukela. On 23 April 2022, the accused fraudulently claimed an unclaimed and unidentified body, saying that it was the brother of Zando Moyo and that he was a taxi driver born in Zimbabwe.

Count 6: Arson - Matsoara, Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, Bester, Masukela, Makhotsa and Nastassja Jansen. On 3 May 2022, the accused set fire to and damaged Cell 35 at Mangaung prison.

Count 7: Violation of a body - Matsoara, Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, and Bester. On or about 3 May 2022, the accused collected the body of an unidentified corpse, and pretended to bury it. But instead of burying it, they set it alight in Cell 35. The state says the coffin they used to pretend to bury the corpse was filled with bags of maize meal.

Count 8: Assisting an escape from prison - Matsoara, Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, Masukela, Makhotsa, Jansen, Moyo, Mier, Makhetha and Ramolula.

Count 9: Escaping from prison - Bester.

Count 10: Harbouring and concealing an escaped offender - Magudumana and Moyo. Between May 2022 and April 2023, the accused harboured and concealed an escaped offender in Johannesburg.

Count 11: Defeating the ends of justice - Matsoara, Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, Masukela, Bester, Makhotsa and Jansen. Between 23 April and 2 May 2022, the accused defeated the ends of justice by obtaining an unidentified corpse, smuggling it into Cell 35 of Mangaung prison, setting the cell and the corpse alight, facilitating Bester’s escape, and leaving the impression that he had died.

Count 12: Fraud - Matsoara, Sekeleni, Lipholo, Magudumana, Bester and Masukela. The accused fraudulently claimed that Bester had died, and that Magudumana and Zolile were entitled to collect the body and Bester’s personal belongings.

Count 13: Corruption - Matsoara. The accused agreed to receive R105,000 in exchange for helping Bester escape from prison.

Count 14: Corruption - Magudumana and Bester for agreeing to pay the R105,000.

Count 15: Corruption - Matsoara, Magudumana, Bester and Makhotsa. The accused agreed Tieho would be paid R1,100 by Matsoara, Magudumana and Bester to assist Bester escape.

Count 16: Corruption - Matsoara, Makhotsa, Makheta and Ramolula for taking a bribe.