Further delay in Thabo Bester trial

Bester complains that his rights to a fair trial are being infringed

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The pre-trial for Thabo Bester, Nandipha Magudumana and seven co-accused was again postponed at the Free State High Court on Wednesday. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

  • The pre-trial conference in the Thabo Bester escape case has been postponed to 24 July.
  • Bester’s lawyers said they had difficulties with consulting him due to travel issues, and withdrew as his legal representatives.
  • Bester complained about confidentiality issues when consulting with an attorney, accessing legal documents, prison conditions, and being handcuffed during court appearances

The pre-trial for Thabo Bester, Nandipha Magudumana and seven co-accused was again unable to get underway at the Free State High Court on Wednesday.

Bester, serving a life sentence for two counts of rape and one count of murder, escaped from the Manguang Correctional Centre in May 2022, allegedly with the help of Magudumana and several officials from the prison, run by multinational security company G4S.

The accused face 16 charges between them, including fraud, corruption, assisting an inmate escape, and the violation of dead bodies.

The pre-trial was supposed to start in February but could not begin because too many of the accused had changed their legal representatives.

On Wednesday, Thabo Bester’s legal representative, advocate Mohamed Seedat, also withdrew as Bester’s attorney.

Advocate Kagisho Moruri, representing former G4S employee Senohe Matsoara, also said he was not “trial ready”, as he still did not have financial instructions from his client. Moruri said he expected the matter to be sorted out within six weeks.

Seedat said he could not continue to travel “back and forth” between Bloemfontein and Pretoria, where Bester is being held.

“It is in his best interest to procure legal representation from Pretoria where such legal representatives will have better access to him on a regular basis,” Seedat told the court.

Bester then tried to raise his hand to speak, and was reprimanded by Judge Joseph Mahlambi, who said, “Mr Bester, please stop the theatrics”, before allowing him to speak.

Bester complained to the court that he struggled to consult with his previous legal representatives while being held at the C-Max section of Kgosi Mampuru prison.

He said consultations with his lawyer were done telephonically, with the calls recorded by the Department of Correctional Services. This, he said, was a problem as the department is a respondent in the case.

He said he was not able to divulge information about his “alleged escape” from the Manguang Correctional Centre.

“I do not believe it was an escape. But whatever the facts are, I cannot freely consult with any attorney that comes to C-Max because of the restrictions that the National Commissioner has instructed upon the wardens that work there,” Bester told the court.

He said this infringed on his right to a fair trial.

Mahlambi advised Bester to get a lawyer to bring a formal application before a court to deal with his concerns.

Bester then brought further complaints before the court, saying he had been unable to access any legal documentation of his case, and that he had been isolated.

“I’ve been segregated from everyone for the past 15 months. I have not had access or contact with any human, except the EST (emergency support team) that sits outside my door. That’s the only people I see. For my mental health and other issues, I feel it is unfair and does not present me with the best ability to be in this court,” said Bester.

He also complained about being cuffed during court appearances, calling it “inhumane”.

Bester alleged that both the minister and national commissioner of correctional services “have deprived me from every single privilege that exists”.

He then complained about the conditions of maximum security prison, saying he is “kept in a hole by myself”, before asking that the death sentence be re-established via a public “petition” and he then be sentenced to death.

“I am at peace and I know what I’ve done,” he said.

Mahlambi told him to lodge a complaint with the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services to investigate the conditions of his prison.

The matter has been postponed to 24 July.

TOPICS:  Thabo Bester prison escape

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