“Today is a waste of time” prosecutor in Thabo Bester case tells court

Pre-trial postponed to 5 June as many of the accused have replaced their lawyers

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Thabo Bester (left) with co-accused Motenyane Masukela in court on Wednesday. Photos: Becker Semela

  • The pre-trial conference in the Thabo Bester escape case has been postponed to 5 June.
  • The prosecutor in the case told the court that the trial will take at least 24 weeks.
  • Thabo Bester had several complaints about his food, clothes and access to lawyers in prison.

The pre-trial conference in the case of Thabo Bester, Nandipha Magudumana and their seven co-accused was supposed to begin in the Free State High Court on Wednesday but has been postponed to 5 June.

Bester is serving a life sentence for two counts of rape and one count of murder. He escaped from prison in May 2022, allegedly with the help of Magudumana and several prison officials. The accused face 16 charges between them, including fraud, corruption, assisting an inmate escape, and the violation of dead bodies.

The prosecutor, advocate Amanda Bester (no relation to Thabo Bester), told the court on Wednesday that the pre-trial could not begin because too many of the accused had changed their legal representatives. Thabo Bester had only instructed his new attorneys on Wednesday morning.

“Today [Wednesday] is, in fact, a waste of time,” advocate Bester told the court.

She also told the court that the trial is likely to take at least 24 weeks.

To prevent further changes to legal teams, she asked the court to determine whether the accused’s current lawyers had been told they would be paid for their time.

The defence lawyers told the court it was too early to determine their fees as they did not know how much of their time the trial would take. It was decided that the issue of fees would be discussed at the next hearing on 5 June.

Thabo Bester’s legal representative, advocate Mohamed Siedat, told the court that Bester was being denied phone calls with his legal team.

Advocate Bester said that this was a matter between Thabo Bester and the Department of Correctional Services.

“The way I understood it is, this new legal team only this morning received instructions, to what legal team was he then denied access?” she asked.

Judge Joseph Mahlambi said that if it was true that Bester was being denied access to legal representatives, this was a serious constitutional matter. He suggested that Siedat bring a “substantive application” to the court.

Siedat also said that Bester was unhappy with the food he received in the holding cells on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Bester was diabetic and the food would cause a sugar spike, Siedat said. Siedat asked the court to make an order that Bester should receive “conducive” meals.

Advocate Bester argued that this should be taken up with the Department of Correctional Services and that it would be irregular for the court to make an order. “I don’t know what diabetics eat, whether it’s bananas or oranges, I have no idea,” she said.

Judge Mahlambi agreed that this should be taken up with the relevant authorities.

Thabo Bester also complained that he was not being allowed to choose the clothes he wore to court. In previous court appearances, Bester was seen in expensive clothing brands, including Burberry and Louis Vuitton. On Wednesday, he appeared in a plain white golf shirt.

Advocate Bester noted that Thabo Bester was a convicted prisoner and therefore did not have discretion over his clothes. Judge Mahlambi suggested that this be taken up with Correctional Services.

Thabo Bester, Nandipha Magudumana and Magudumana’s former gardener, Zanda Moyo, remain in custody and other accused are on bail.

Nandipha Magudumana entered the courtroom holding a Louis Vuitton purse.

TOPICS:  Thabo Bester prison escape

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