Man resembling Thabo Bester spotted in Sandton, nearly two months after his supposed death in prison fire

Woman in photo could be celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana

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Is this man in sunglasses Thabo Bester, photographed in Sandton on 30 June 2022? GroundUp has blocked out a child and the faces of other people in the photo. Photo supplied

  • Photos from June 2022 show a man who looks like convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester shopping in Sandton City.
  • Bester was thought to have died in a fire in his prison cell at Mangaung private prison in May 2022.
  • GroundUp received no reply from SAPS, DCS, or Bester’s “customary wife” celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana. JICS said they had not seen these images before.

GroundUp has seen photographs of a man who closely resembles “Facebook rapist” Thabo Bester shopping in Woolworths in Sandton City nearly two months after his reported death in prison. The photograph shows him with long hair, wearing a tracksuit and sunglasses.

The photographs, taken on 30 June 2022, add to the mystery surrounding Bester’s reported death. On 3 May 2022, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) announced Bester had died in a prison fire in Mangaung. But several elements suggest that he may have escaped from prison and that the body found after the fire may be that of another man.

In the pictures sent to GroundUp, the man is accompanied by a child who looks like the photos of the daughter of celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana on Magudumana’s Instagram page. A woman in a cream-coloured outfit stands with her back to the camera.

The metadata of the photos confirms that they were taken in Sandton City. GroundUp has spoken to two people who knew Bester who said they are convinced he is the man in the photos.

A close-up look of the man believed to be Bester.

A close-up from the second image.

The person who leaked the photos to us, who also took them, told GroundUp that she had recognised Magudumana in the shop. She did not recognise Bester but was surprised to see Magudumana with a man who was not her husband. She took a picture to show a friend who is a fan of Magudumana.

GroundUp sent the pictures to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) for comment. Their spokesperson Emerantia Cupido told GroundUp, that it was “the first time JICS has seen these photos”.

Asked whether the pictures might confirm that Bester had escaped from prison, Cupido said, “The Inspecting Judge, Justice Edwin Cameron is deeply concerned by the evidence he has received thus far, however, JICS cannot confirm this, as we are still busy with the JICS investigation.”

Cupido added that they, “unfortunately [do not] have the equipment or forensic accreditation to confirm the authenticity of these photos or the identity of the person in these photos”.

On Wednesday we reported that days after Bester’s death was announced in May 2022, Magudumana had collected the body from the morgue but it was later confiscated by police for further investigations. A woman claiming to be Bester’s mother also tried to claim the body, but her DNA did not match that of the body.

Magudumana then approached the high court in Pretoria asking that the body be released to her, claiming in an affidavit to be Bester’s “customary law” wife. The court has not yet ruled on the matter.

There are several strange circumstances surrounding the fire

  • Bester was moved into the cell soon before the fire;
  • the man who died did not die from the fire but from a blow to the head;
  • minutes before the prison fire, two people were seen leaving the prison;
  • CCTV cameras were apparently not correctly positioned;
  • the height of the body recorded during the autopsy was 25cm shorter than Bester’s height displayed on a police mugshot;
  • the DNA of the body did not match that of the woman who claims to be Bester’s mother; and
  • to our knowledge, the body has not yet been positively identified as Bester (if it has, neither the police nor DCS have told us).

A mugshot taken of Bester around the time of his trial. Note that his height is above 1.7m. Source: Used by several newspapers in 2011 without attribution (copied for fair use)

However, there may be valid explanations for these things

  • the photos leaked to GroundUp could be fake (very unlikely), or it could be someone else in the pictures;
  • the woman claiming to be Bester’s mother may not be his biological mother, explaining the DNA discrepancy;
  • the coroner could have made a mistake when measuring the height of the body during the autopsy; or
  • the people who left the prison just before the fire may be unconnected to Bester.

Whether or not Bester is alive, this matter has raised troubling questions about G4S-managed Mangaung Correctional Centre, DCS, and the police.

Ten months after the fire, there are still no answers from the police or the Department of Correctional Services.

GroundUp received no reply to questions sent to SAPS, DCS or Magudumana.

TOPICS:  Prisons Thabo Bester prison escape

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