Avatar photo

By Marizka Coetzer

Journalist


Bester ‘wore branded clothes, talked about deals worth millions’

An officer says Bester and his cellmates lived large in the prison, because they had lots of money.


Things were not as they seemed behind the high prison walls as more information leaked about the circumstances inside the Mangaung correctional facility.

In an award-winning documentary by Ruth Hopkins, Prison for Profit, she told shocking tales of life behind bars in South Africa’s first privatised prison.

Insight

The escape of Thabo Bester has landed the prison in the spotlight again for the wrong reasons. A correctional services officer who agreed to speak anonymously said he knew Bester well, although he didn’t work with him much.

“First of all, the body was not hidden in a table, but in a duffel bag on the back of a van on Friday afternoon after hours and it was not searched,” said the officer.

He described Mangaung Correctional Centre as a good prison. “It’s very technological and all gates and rooms work with computers.

It is very clean and we are not overcrowded,” he said. “We struggle with marijuana and cellphones. But it can only be members who bring it in.

Marijuana and drugs cost money and money is power. Power is a dangerous thing in prison.” He claimed that the prison consisted of two-man and four-man cells.

ALSO READ: Thabo Bester: ‘Dr Nandipha said she was being held against her will’

Bester cellmates

Bester was in a four-man cell. The officer claimed Bester shared the cell with Sandile Mantsoe, who killed and burned Karabo Mokoena’s body, Forex trader Thabiso Dira and one of three Bulgarian men who was sentenced to a collective 60 years’ imprisonment for one of South Africa’s biggest drug busts.

Bester allegedly went to single cells on a Saturday and escaped the following Monday. “Mantsoe must have known about everything,” he claimed.

READ MORE: JUST IN: Thabo Bester: ‘No threats to his life and Bester taking meals’ – DCS

Lavish prison lives

The officer alleged the four inmates had a lot of money. “We heard them talking about many deals and millions [of rands].”

He said the inmates allegedly wore brand-name clothes and shoes, had laptops, radios and cellphones he believed were allegedly smuggled in by officers.

The officer believes because Bester had a lot of money, he was able to buy extra food such as noodles and cookies.

“There are stories that members sometimes brought in takeaway food. But it is not true that his girlfriend slept over at the prison.

It is also not true that he could wear his clothes or that someone could bring him clothes. I read and hear a lot of fake news myself,” he said.

The officer said, in the beginning, they believed Bester died in the cell.

Department of correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo denied claims that Mantsoe and Bester shared a cell.

He said Mantsoe and Dira shared cell 8 on the lower level of the prison from 15 November 2021. “Bester was in cell 16 on the upper level of the same street,” he said.

Nxumalo said Mantsoe and Dira were later joined in cell 8 by a Bulgarian citizen, Asen Ivanov, in April 2022.

NOW READ: WATCH: ‘Many people will have to answer for Thabo Bester’s escape’ – Cele

Read more on these topics

Mangaung prison prison escape Thabo Bester

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits