Inmate, G4S give detailed accounts of day of Thabo Bester's escape

13 April 2023 - 14:51
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Mangaung Correctional Centre, from which Thabo Bester escaped.
Mangaung Correctional Centre, from which Thabo Bester escaped.
Image: Mlungisi Louw/Gallo Images

An inmate who was at Mangaung prison the day Thabo Bester made his daring escape has given a blow-by-blow account of what he saw, while under-fire security company G4S shared a timeline of events on that fateful day.

Bester was initially believed to have died in a fire in his cell on May 3 2022 at the Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC), but questions soon emerged on the circumstances around this. Nearly a year later, correctional services confirmed that the person found in the cell was not Bester and had died before being smuggled into the prison.

G4S had until Wednesday's appearance before the justice and correctional services portfolio committee maintained that it was Bester who died in the fire. They then backtracked during the heated two-day session in parliament.

A masked inmate on Thursday gave his version of events in an interview with the SABC.

He said there was a hive of activity outside Bester's cell on the night before his escape.

“They [officials] were busy going up and down, I heard footsteps and doors being opened and closed. So what we didn't hear was the sound of the explosion, some of the officials said there was an explosion, but I didn't hear the explosion.

“In the morning, the late morning at around 4, I saw the officials coming out ... Later on we saw the DCS members, the two nurses [and then] at past 11, we saw police.

“The officials told us Bester burnt himself inside the cell, he committed suicide. But what surprised us is how, because inside the cell, there is no electric plug. They don't allow matches to light, cigarettes to smoke. So that was surprising  [as to] how he managed to burn himself."

The masked prisoner went on to say: “We asked ourselves how because that guy was living the best life. He was someone who had everything he wanted — I mean he got the best treatment wherever he went".

G4S, meanwhile, gave a timeline of the sequence of events on the day of Bester's escape in its presentation to the committee:

May 2 2022

  • 7.30pm: After the day’s final roll call (four per day), all cells are locked for the night, including that of inmate Bester (standard operating procedure). Security systems technician confirms security system is operational. Two central control room officers are on night shift duty (to monitor camera footage, open doors and manage security system).

MAY 3 2022

  • 4am: Fire discovered in cell 35 and extinguished by trained MCC personnel. Cell is cordoned off. MCC/DCS management called.
  • 4.26am: Nurse from Faranani Life arrives
  • 4.57am: DCS controller arrives
  • 5.01am: MCC operations director arrives
  • 5.10am: Doctor from Faranani Life arrives, examines body and certifies death of inmate Bester.
  • 6.00am: DCS area commissioner and MCC duty director arrive
  • 6.55am: Police arrive.
  • 10.30am: Police's forensic team arrives. SAPS completes its examination and takes photographs. Forensic team removes the body to the state mortuary for a post mortem. Once police completed the examination, returns the cell back to MCC. MCC retrieves deceased's possessions for safekeeping in the administrative stores. Among possessions, an authorised laptop and an unauthorised cellphone were retrieved.
  • 7.30pm: After final roll call, all inmates are accounted for.

MAY 4 2022

  • Notice of death for inmate Bester certified by forensic pathologist from the department of health. MCC administration staff raise concerns in respect of a smell of petrol emanating from the deceased’s possessions. MCC operations director calls police to report the smell of petrol.

MAY 5 2022

  • Based on MCC’s concerns, SAPS returns to MCC to inspect the deceased’s possessions.

MAY 6 2022

  • Department of home affairs issues death certificate for inmate Bester.

MAY 8 2022

  • SAPS forensics returns to MCC to collect all belongings recovered from cell 35, including laptop and cellphone.

The company also insisted it complied with the police's criminal investigation, as well as judicial inspectorate for correctional services' (JICS) independent investigation.

Inspecting judge of correctional services Edwin Cameron on Thursday told the portfolio committee that G4S had been alerted that the body found in cell 35 was not Bester's back in November 2022.


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