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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist


Thabo Bester: Correctional Services concedes G4S boss lost control of Mangaung prison

Correctional services boss says a temporary manager has been appointed at the Mangaung correctional facility.


Following the brazen escape of Thabo Bester, also dubbed the Facebook rapist, from the Mangaung Correctional Centre, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) National Commissioner, Makgothi Thobakgale, has conceded that the boss of the contractor G4S had lost control of the prison.

Thobakgale was briefing the media at the Mangaung prison on Thursday morning about Bester’s escape from the facility.

Securing Mangaung prison

Thobakgale said the department had taken measures to secure the prison by appointing a temporary senior manager to take over the facility immediately.

The temporary manager, Patrick Ali Mashabathakga, is expected to assume the functions of the director, in line with provisions in the Correctional Services Act.

“The temporary manager is a DCS official with experience running a super maximum security prison. We have in the past taken over running Mangaung and he was part of that team,” explained Thobakgale.

ALSO READ: Despite all evidence G4S insists Thabo Bester died in fire, Popcru says prove it

Calculated escape

Thobakgale also admitted that Bester’s escape was well planned.

“It’s clear that as correctional services we are dealing with a calculated escape debacle. The Saps continues to investigate this matter as it has elements of criminality. Bester was assisted to escape. But the contractor maintains he died in his cell.”

“The step we take today is drastic. We are directly involved in managing the running of this prison so that we can stabilise it. The fact that Bester could run illegal activities from prison is one of the reasons why we are taking over,” Thobakgale said.

Investigations report

Thobakgale said Bester’s escape was one of its kind and that findings of the investigation report clearly reveal that Bester had help when he escaped from “lawful custody”.

“This is the first escape that DCS is dealing with that had so many lapses in security operations. Greatly worrying is the fact that a private vehicle was allowed inside the facility without a gate pass on the day of the escape, possibly carrying an unknown body that was burnt beyond recognition in cell 35. This talks to a facility that has compromised its security system beyond any reasonable doubt.

“Tampering with surveillance cameras points to a failed monitoring system deliberately orchestrated to conceal crucial evidence and individuals who aided Bester to escape. This is also a failure to guarantee safe custody of inmates and a breach in terms of the responsibilities allocated to the contractor,” Thobakgale said.

He said the departmental investigative unit has started looking into the conduct of the three suspended officials.

“Failures from the contractor (G4S) do not exonerate the officials in the employ of DCS tasked with specific responsibilities to oversee and monitor operations at Mangaung Correctional Facility.”

Manhunt

Thobakgale said a tracking and tracing team had been established to find Bester. He also appealed to the public to come forward with any leads.

“We remain confident we will find Bester. We will leave no stone unturned to getting to the bottom of this incident,” Thobakgale said.

Bester, dubbed the “Facebook rapist” for his crimes, escaped from the Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein in May 2022 after it was believed he had committed suicide by setting himself alight in his cell.

ALSO READ: Government confirms ‘Facebook rapist’ Thabo Bester did not die in prison fire

However, over the weekend, an investigation by the Department of Correctional Services, which originally declared him dead, confirmed that the charred body found in his cell was not that of the convicted murderer and rapist.

Bester has in fact been alive and at large for the last nine months. He was even spotted buying free range chicken at Woolworths in Sandton earlier in March.

Meanwhile, Minister in The Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said Cabinet had been briefed on the efforts to investigate and rearrest Bester. Ntshavheni urged all law enforcement agencies involved to speedily track down Bester and bring him to book. 

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