Another G4S employee has been arrested in connection with Thabo Bester’s prison break plot, whereby the Facebook rapist escaped Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, South Africa, which is operated by G4S, by faking his own death in a fire in his cell on 3rd May of last year.
Mangaung Prison is the first-ever privately run public prison in the country. And employees of G4S, a Britain-based security company running the prison, have been accused of helping Bester flee.
G4S said three employees were dismissed in connection with the incident.
First G4S employee to be arrested was a CCTV technician, accused of switching off cameras for 8 hours on 3 May 2022, the day of the escape.
The 51-year-old security guard is the second one to be arrested after prison warder Senohe Matsoara.
National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said the man was arrested at the Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein on Tuesday 18 April, where Bester escaped from on 3 May 2022.
The guard appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
Mathe said the man faced charges of assisting an inmate to escape from lawful custody and defeating the ends of justice.
Other people who have been arrested in connection with Bester’s escape include celebrity aesthetics doctor Nandipha Magudumana, her father Zolile Sekeleni, and Integritron Integrated Solutions employee Teboho Lipholo.
Bester, who was serving a life sentence for murder and rape at the time of his escape, was arrested in Tanzania with Magumudana.
He was at large for a year and he was caught on 8 April 2023 with his girlfriend Dr Magudumana and a third suspect, after new post-mortem investigation revealed the body, which was found burnt in his cell, was not actually his.
G4S under scrutiny
Senior officials from G4S appeared before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on Wednesday, 12 April, where they met fiery MPs who wanted to get answers about how Thabo Bester escaped from the facility in May last year.
Shocking revelations were made by G4S senior officials during the proceedings. Watch the fiery exchanges here.
CCTV cameras stopped working
Cobus Groenewoud, the G4S regional director, told the committee that on the night of the incident, all cameras were functional on that night, except Broadway 35, which is where Bester was being held and the administrative building.
The on-site night duty supervisor failed to follow policies, Senohe Matsoara, who has since been fired and subsequently arrested, failed to complete inspection rounds, failed to attend to incidents on time and ignored a call to attend a report of smoke where Bester was.
There were no smoke detectors at the facility
The lack of smoke detectors was another factor that played an important role in the escape of Facebook rapist, since there was a fire in Bester’s cell, which was used to fake his death, and which could have been detected earlier if there were smoke detectors.
TV stand brought in the facility with an unauthorised car
An unauthorised car carrying a wooden TV stand was allowed into the MMC days before Bester’s escape.
The prison’s audit and risk director Gert Beyleveld admitted to the committee that the TV stand entered the premises without being searched.
He said the TV stand cabinet was brought in by the supervisor who has been dismissed. It was taken to the skills development department for repairs, but it wasn’t repaired.
When asked if a corpse could have fitted in the TV stand, he said yes.
Beyleveld said seven people were suspended over this.
Bester had a laptop and cell phone in his cell
Groenewoud informed MPs that Bester was registered with Damelin to study graphic design and added: “Inmates who are registered students have the right…they have the right if they are registered with a formal institution of learning to have access to a laptop and for that reason inmate Bester had access to that laptop.”
However, he admitted that they did not know when Bester was supposed to have completed his course.
They were told his course finished in 2021, which made Bester’s still having a laptop in May 2022 nonsensical.
A cell phone was also found in the cell where he was supposedly burnt to death.
Bester was running a business from prison
G4S said it had since become aware of the allegations that Bester ran a business from prison, however, they had no evidence that he ran a business from his cell despite conceding that he had a cell phone and laptop in his cell.
When one MP pointed out that there was evidence on social media, including a video that Bester used his laptop to commit more crime, Groenewoud said he had not seen that video.
G4S admitted that they had not taken any steps to substantiate the allegations that Bester ran a business from the privately operated prison.
Regular visits from Dr Magudumana
G4S officials said Dr Magudumana, who transported a body to fake Bester’s death to the prison, visited him regularly from 2017 to November 2021, just a few months before he escaped prison.
They said they would not have stopped Magudumana visiting Bester on a regular basis.
Company insisted the found body was Bester’s
MP Glynnis Breytenbach grilled G4S Africa regional commercial director Cobus Groenewoud on why the company insisted that the body found in the cell was Thabo Bester’s “even after it was very clear to everybody else in South Africa that it wasn’t”.
“Because we were not the primary investigating authority and we did not have access to the prime evidence,” Groenewoud answered.
“And that’s your answer?” Breytenbach said ironically and added: “Wow! I wish we were in court.”
G4S contract under re-evaluation
G4S’ public-private partnership with government came into question following the incident. The department pays G4S R45 million (approximately £2 million) every month under the contract. The contract ends in 2026.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the G4S contract at the Mangaung facility, is being re-evaluated.
Investigative journalist, Ruth Hopkins, who exposed torture and death in prisons in her book, The Misery Merchants, commented:
“I would hope that this case would be assessed and analysed beyond the Bester escape, that the role this private company is playing in South Africa would be scrutinised and that they will be held accountable. I definitely hope that.”
Ruth Hopkins also shot a documentary in 2019, Prison for Profit, which brought to light what was really happening in the privately-run prison.