Johannesburg – Thabo Bester skipped the country to Zimbabwe to lay low after escaping from the Mangaung maximum security prison where he allegedly paid R5 million to at least nine prison warders who helped him escape.
Bester and his Zimbabwean smugglers were also involved in a gunfight with soldiers guarding the Beitbridge border where they were forced to ditch their car and run on foot. One of the smugglers was injured during the shooting.
The car was impounded and remained at the border for months. The “Sunday Independent“ made the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) aware that Bester had faked his death to escape from the Mangaung maximum security prison in Bloemfontein with the help of officials in a list of official questions sent to the department in May last year.
The questions were sent to the department on May 20 last year, where we asked DCS whether it was aware that “Bester’s death was staged to cover up for his well-orchestrated escape from prison”. And the department spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, officially responded on May 21 last year, that “DCS is not aware of such allegations”.
We also asked the department whether any DNA testing was conducted on the severely burnt body that was found in Bester’s cell and Nxumalo said: “The matter is still under investigation.”
Four whistle-blowers – three Mangaung prison officials and one of Bester’s former business associates, who asked not to be named – had shared the information about Bester’s daring escape from prison with the “Sunday Independent”.
The information about Bester’s escape was also shared in detail with a senior Correctional Services official during a meeting in Johannesburg, also in May last year, who saw our questions and wanted to lobby for an internal inquiry about the matter. Bester staged his escape from prison after “he burnt to death” on May 3 last year.
In an earlier story published on May 8 last year, the “Sunday Independent“ reported that “the Department of Correctional Services this week failed to explain how the notorious ‘Facebook rapist’ mysteriously set himself alight and burned to ashes while he was locked in a solitary cell at Mangaung Correctional Centre, one of the two private prisons in South Africa.”
And it was based on this story that the four whistle-blowers contacted the publication. Bester was serving a life sentence for the murder of Johannesburg model and car saleswoman Nomfundo Tyhulu. This week, one of the Mangaung prison officials, who blew the whistle on the matter last year, told the “Sunday Independent“ that Bester allegedly paid R5m to nine of his colleagues who helped him to escape from prison.
“The money was paid in cash over a period of time, about R500 000 each, and the mastermind pocketed R1m,” the official said.
One of the officials implicated and subsequently fired from the prison, Senohe Matsoara, posted a picture of himself on Facebook in front of a brand new Volkswagen T-Roc 2.0 which was bought from a Pretoria dealership in January 2022. The car is worth more than R600 000.
Matsoara was supposed to be off-duty on the night Bester escaped but surprisingly reported to work. Nxumalo confirmed yesterday that Matsoara and two others had been fired.
“Three officials were dismissed so far. Names of officials cannot be made public,” Nxumalo said. The “Sunday Independent” understands that six more officials, who were also implicated, have been suspended pending an investigation.
Nxumalo said an “investigation is still under way” to establish how many officials played a role in Bester’s elaborate escape. TimesLive reported this week that Bester “allegedly walked out of Mangaung maximum security prison disguised as a warden, with the help of prison officials”.
It isn’t yet known how Bester moved around but he resurfaced at the Beitbridge border post, between South Africa and Zimbabwe, where he and his smugglers were caught while illegally crossing to Zimbabwe.
“Bester escaped to Zimbabwe to lay low until the coast was cleared,” one of the people with intimate knowledge of his escape said yesterday.
The mole added that Bester and some of his smugglers managed to escape on foot and reached Zimbabwe where they started working on a plan to return to South Africa “when the dust has settled down”.
One of Bester’s former business partners told the publication that the Facebook rapist planned the escape in 2020. The former business associate and his partners got involved with Bester after Dr Nandipha Magudumana, Bester’s girlfriend who is also now on the run with him, invited them to join a group of companies owned by Tom Motsepe, a South African billionaire living in New York.
One of the businessmen spotted resemblances between Motsepe and Bester, as they were having a chain of Zoom meetings back in 2020, and hired a private investigator to probe his billionaire business partner.
The private investigator managed to confirm that Tom Motsepe was indeed Thabo Bester and his New York location was the Mangaung maximum security prison. The irate businessmen confronted Bester with the information and he came clean and confessed that he was indeed Thabo Bester.
Bester denied that he had raped or killed any woman but admitted to taking a fall for two sons of senior politicians, whose names were given to the “Sunday Independent”. He told the businessmen that he was well-rewarded, hence he was loaded with millions of rand at his disposal.
“Bester basically said he was poor when he was outside but a multi-millionaire behind bars because the sons of the two politicians have paid him very well and they were also going to help him to escape from prison,” the source said.
The businessmen knew when the news broke that Bester was found burned in his cell that he had escaped as per the plan that he shared with them. After the “Sunday Independent” published the story about Bester’s mysterious “death,” one of the businessmen reached out and gave more information.
Bester isn’t the only prisoner who had escaped from Mangaung’s maximum security prison. Nxumalo confirmed to the “Sunday Independent” yesterday that another prisoner had escaped on December 27 last year after he was taken to hospital.
“The escapee was rearrested on 28 December by SAPS,” Nxumalo said.
Bester is the father of three girls from three different women based in Durban, where he was also found guilty of raping two other models. He stabbed Tyhulu and robbed her of her cellphone and laptop while the couple were on holiday in Cape Town two months after they had started dating.
He was jailed for life for Tyhulu’s murder in August 2012 and sentenced to an additional 25 years for aggravated armed robbery. A prison official, in May last year, told the “Sunday Independent“ at the time that there was something fishy after DCS reported that Bester was found burned beyond recognition in his cell.
“But nobody heard him screaming for help as he was burning and there was a strong smell of petrol in his cell, something which is impossible for an offender to be in possession of in prison,” the official added.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe stated last week that national police commissioner General Fanie Masemola had “ordered the prioritisation of investigations into the Mangaung prison escape case”.
“A case of murder is under investigation following the outcome of the DNA analysis that confirmed that the body of the deceased which was found was not of Thabo Bester. The autopsy report went on to further reveal that the deceased had died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, and was already dead prior to the arson incident,” the statement said.
It also added that a case of escape from lawful custody was registered against Bester.
Bester, who was reportedly living large and even renting a luxury house in Hyde Park in Johannesburg, is on the run again from the law with his girlfriend, Dr Magudumana.