Thabo Bester escape: did Nandipha Magudumana collect the same body from the same morgue twice?

Mystery deepens, inconsistencies accumulate, as police fail to answer questions

By Daniel Steyn and Becker Semela

26 April 2023

Thabo Bester escaped from Mangaung Correctional Centre on 3 May 2022. Photo: Becker Semela

Information apparently given by the police to ActionSA on the Thabo Bester escape suggests that Bester’s partner, Nandipha Magudumana, may have collected the same body - that of Katlego Bereng - from the same morgue twice.

ActionSA Free State chairperson Patricia Kopane confirmed on Tuesday that criminal charges have been laid in relation to the death of Bereng, the man whose burned body is believed to have been found Bester’s prison cell.

Bereng’s father, Batho Mpholo, was assisted by ActionSA (Mpholo is a member of ActionSA) to lay charges at Park Road Police Station in Bloemfontein against the Free State Department of Health for contravening the National Health Act in the handling of Bereng’s body. Mpholo also plans to take legal action against the Department of Correctional Services and G4S.

Bester escaped from Mangaung Correctional Centre on 3 May 2022. He had faked his death and a body was found in his cell, burned beyond recognition. Almost a year later, Bereng’s family were informed that the body found in the cell was his.

Bereng went missing in March 2022 and a missing person’s case was opened in May 2022, according to the family. The family did not receive any updates on the investigation until two weeks ago when Bereng’s mother was asked for DNA samples. The family has still not been allowed to view the body.

Read: Thabo Bester escape: Many unanswered questions about the death of Katlego Bereng

Mpholo and ActionSA delegates were engaged in meetings with the police in Bloemfontein throughout the day on Tuesday, seeking clarity on how Bereng ended up in Bester’s cell.

Kopane updated GroundUp on Tuesday afternoon about what they were told by the police. She said it seems Bereng was found unconscious and picked up by an ambulance. His blood pressure was low and he died in the ambulance before reaching National Hospital in Bloemfontein.

According to Kopane, Bereng’s body was then taken to the Free State morgue as an unidentified person and the body was claimed by Bester’s partner Magudumana.

GroundUp is unable to confirm Kopane’s version of events because the local and national spokespeople for the SA Police Service (SAPS) have declined to comment. No dates have been provided for when Bereng died, when his body was taken to the morgue, or when the body was supposedly collected by Magudumana before being smuggled into Mangaung Correctional Centre.

Mpholo and ActionSA are demanding to see the medical report from the paramedics who drove Bereng to the hospital and Bereng’s death certificate. They are also demanding an investigation into how Bereng’s body was released to Magudumana when she was not his spouse.

After Bester faked his death in the cell fire, the burned body, thought to be Bester’s at the time, was taken to the Free State mortuary where a post-mortem found that the person was dead before the fire broke out, from a head injury. It is still unclear how Bereng sustained the injury.

Another inconsistency is that Bereng’s family describe him as tall, but according to the postmortem report, the body in the cell was only 145cm, which indicates a very short person. A forensic pathologist has however previously explained to GroundUp that it is possible that the height could have been incorrectly estimated, especially since the body was in the foetal position.

Two days after the fire, Magudumana collected the body from the Free State mortuary again and took it to a mortuary in Soweto. It seems bizarre that Magudumana would have been able to collect the same body from the same morgue, twice. (It is possible she collected the body from the hospital morgue the first time round.) SAPS has previously confirmed that Magudumana claimed three different bodies from the Free State mortuary, the third of which was the one found in the cell.

GroundUp attempted to visit the mortuary but security staff turned us away, and the Free State Health Department refused to comment.