Cape Town – Parliament has received a damning report on the events leading to the escape of Thabo Bester from the Mangaung Correctional Centre last year.
This happened when security company G4S appeared before the justice and correctional services portfolio committee on Wednesday after it asked to be summoned.
Briefing the committee, head of Mangaung Correctional Centre Joseph Monyante told the committee that Bester made an application requesting to be transferred to a single cell for his own safety on April 30, 2022, which was approved by the Department of Correctional Services.
He also said fire was discovered in Bester’s single cell at 4am on May 3 and was extinguished by the prison personnel.
Monyante also said a doctor, who arrived about an hour later, certified the death of Bester.
He told the committee that the prison personnel had raised concerns of a smell of petrol emanating from the Bester’s possessions on May 4.
“MCC operations director called SAPS to report the smell of petrol. Based on MCC’s concerns, SAPS returned to MCC to inspect the deceased’s possessions.”
G4S regional commercial director for Africa Cobus Groenewoud said SAPS, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services and the prison had conducted separate investigations.
He said MCC co-operated with SAPS and made the police aware of the petrol smell in Bester’s possessions.
Groenewoud said SAPS, which initially probed suicide and later a murder, opened an investigation into an escape in January.
“It is important to note that MCC was not informed of this development by SAPS until April, 4 2023.”
He said they had also co-operated with Jics during its investigation into the unnatural death at the prison.
Groenewoud said it was only in February this year that Jics informed them of its suspicions that Bester escaped.
On the investigation by G4S, Groenewoud said they started the investigation on May 3, 2022, and analysed the actions of their staff.
He said they found that the CCTV system was fully operational except for the cameras in the Broadway unit where bester was held and the administrative building.
“Video cameras for the these buildings, the Administrative Building and Broadway functions on the same circuit and were not recording footage during the period 19h38 on 2 May to 04h11 on 3 May 2022.
“Power to the circuit failed on the evening of May 2 and May 3 in the early hours.”
Groenewoud said two Central Control Room officials failed to follow clearly established policies and procedures and did not monitor and report events in a timely manner.
“The onsite night duty supervisor on May 2 and May 3 failed to follow clear and well established MCC policies and procedures.
“This person failed to complete inspection rounds, failed to attend to incidents on time and directed staff to insignificant tasks.”
He also said the supervisor ignored a call to attend a report of smoke in Broadway cell 35 where Bester was housed.
“He failed to properly account for his movements and actions on the night of May 2 and May 3.”
Groenewoud said there was distant CCTV footage that showed two unidentified figures running toward administrative building, where CCTV cameras were temporarily not recording.
“We were unable to identify whether the two individuals are prison officials or whether they were inmates.
“The video footage and information was shared with the DCS, SAPS and Jics between from as early as May 2022 until October 2022 to support their respective investigations.”
Groenwoud said three employees were suspended shortly after the incident and led to dismissal of Senohe Matsoara, who was arrested by the SAPS last week and appeared in court on Monday.