How Thabo Bester’s escape from prison exposes the failures of the South African state

How Thabo Bester’s escape from prison exposes the failures of the South African state

...By Solomon Thomas for TDPel Media.

GroundUp, a non-profit news organisation, broke the story about the possible escape of Thabo Bester from prison on 8 November 2022.


In March 2023, the company released a follow-up exposé that seemingly confirmed Bester’s escape.

Subsequent reports included pictures of Bester taken in public, stories about a scam business run from inside a maximum-security prison, and public businesses run from a rented mansion in Hyde Park.

It kept getting more bizarre, and still the state was nowhere.

On Tuesday, 3 May 2022, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was called to a scene in Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) where a burnt body was found in a cell.

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A suspected suicide was reported.

On 4 May 2022, the state pathologist performed the autopsy and concluded that the deceased died from blunt force trauma and that the body was burnt post-mortem.


The murder of someone in the prison was indicated, and a murder docket was opened.

But what happened next is worth analysing.

An investigating officer would have known from the post-mortem report that the post-mortem burning of the body implicated either another prisoner or a prison official as perpetrator.

By 4 May 2022, the state had sufficient information to suspect that the victim was not Bester, and that Bester was missing.

However, the state seemingly did nothing.

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For ten months, the state sat on the facts, not using their enormous collective might and resources, until a small, non-profit company published the embarrassing truth.

During this time, Bester was hiding in plain sight, committing further crimes.

There are two state failures that stand exposed by the Bester saga.


The first state failure is the fact that Bester was allowed to escape, conduct online scams from prison, and smuggle a body into prison.

There was no control at the prison, and G4S and DCS must answer.

Neither can escape culpability. Second is SAPS; the police force should act when dangerous prisoners escape and should warn the public that a convicted serial rapist and murderer is on the loose.

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These are just the basic things we expect.

GroundUp is a small, non-profit publication that relies on donations to produce and publish news reports and opinions.

Its annual budget is about 0.007% of the SAPS budget.

Why did it require this small member of the fourth estate before the state swung into action? At best for SAPS and DCS, there has been extreme incompetence and dereliction of duty.

A deliberate cover-up would, bizarrely, almost be a relief.


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