South Africa jailbreak fugitive Thabo Bester appears in court
A rapist and murderer who broke out of jail and left a burnt corpse in his cell appeared in a South African court on Friday, a day after being flown back from Tanzania.
Thabo Bester, whose daring prison break has gripped the country for weeks, had a blank expression in the courtroom, wearing a yellow tracksuit with his feet and hands cuffed.
The 37-year-old was heavily guarded at the Bloemfontein magistrates’ court around 400 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg, surrounded by a heavy police presence.
Dubbed the “Facebook rapist”, Bester — who was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 — lured victims on the social media platform before raping and robbing them. He killed at least one victim.
Escaped a year ago
He escaped from a privately-run prison almost a year ago — but police said they only found out last month.
In May 2022, the charred body of a man was found in Bester’s cell, leading prison authorities to believe that he had set himself on fire, but DNA later revealed the body belonged to someone else.
Bester was arrested last Friday by Tanzanian police after he fled South Africa along with his alleged lover Nandipha Magudumana and a Mozambican accomplice.
Magudumana, who is a celebrity doctor and social media influencer, appeared in court on Thursday facing several charges including murder.
Not allowed to address court
Bester’s request to address the court was rejected by the magistrate.
His lawyer said Bester had not eaten in more than 24 hours and would only accept food provided by his legal team, citing fears and safety concerns.
Bester’s lawyer requested to have him back in court as soon as possible, but lost the bid as the state said it needed a month to investigate and ensure safety protocols were in place for Bester’s next court appearance.
The case has been adjourned to May 16.
Key details missing
Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told a press conference on Friday that the department was unable to trace key details of Bester’s identity.
Motsoaledi said Bester “simply doesn’t exist in our system”, adding that he did not have an identification document, birth certificate or a passport issued by the department.
Bester and his accomplices were arrested in Tanzania with several passports in their possession.
Four others have recently been arrested in connection with the escape plot, including the doctor’s father.
Magudumana and the four others are due to appear in court on April 17.