South African convict who faked death to escape returned to jail
A fugitive rapist and murderer who left a burnt corpse in his cell in an attempt to fake his own death during a daring jailbreak has returned to prison in South Africa after fleeing to Tanzania, officials said Thursday.
The case has embarrassed South African authorities and sparked fresh outrage over the competence of the country’s police and criminal justice system.
Dubbed the ‘Facebook rapist’, Thabo Bester, who was sentenced to life in prison for rape, robbery and murder in 2012, lured victims on the social media platform before raping and robbing them. He killed at least one victim.
Although he escaped from a privately-run prison in Bloemfontein almost a year ago, South African police say they only found out last month.
Charred body of a man was found in Bester’s cell in May 2022, leading the country’s prison authorities to believe at first that he had set himself on fire.
DNA evidence later revealed the body belonged to someone else and police launched a murder investigation late last month.
Bester was arrested last Friday by Tanzanian police along with a Mozambican woman accomplice with whom he is reportedly romantically involved with.
They were caught in the town of Arusha, as they attempted to make their way to the Kenyan border.
Bester as well as the celebrity doctor and social media influencer woman, were flown back into South Africa by specially chartered plane which landed in Lanseria airport north of Johannesburg in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“We can confirm that these fugitives have been returned to South Africa”, South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told a press conference in Cape Town.
“Bester has been taken to the Kgosi Mampuru II correctional facility in Pretoria,” Lamola said, thanking the Tanzanian government.
Bester will be kept under 24-hour surveillance and guarded by ‘highly trained officers’, according to the justice ministry.
Alleged lover under arrest
“His alleged lover and accomplice is under arrest pending a court appearance later on Thursday,” Lamola added.
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According to South African police, she faces charges of murder, violation of bodies, fraud and aiding as well as abetting the escape of a prisoner.
Four others have been recently arrested in connection with the escape plot, including the celebrity doctor’s father.
The father who allegedly aided Bester’s prison break, was earlier this week charged with murder in connection with the man found dead in Bester’s cell.
Bester’s case resurfaced in October last year when local investigative news organisation GroundUp reported on the mystery surrounding his death.
The outlet in March reported damning evidence suggesting the deputy minister of correctional services had been informed by a prison warder about Bester’s escape as early as June 2022, yet nothing was done.
Following mounting pressure from the public after details of his escape were uncovered, South African authorities began efforts to apprehend him in late March.
G4S contract not renewed
The correctional services ministry announced last month that it would not renew its contract with G4S, the British multinational private security company which ran the private prison Bester escaped from.
The prison has been taken over by South African authorities pending the outcome of the ongoing investigations.
The London-headquartered security company was also summoned to parliament by a committee looking into the case.
“South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is ‘disturbed’ by the escape,” his spokesman said on Wednesday.