It provided shock and horror, and frankly, scores of moments of exasperation as South Africans watched, read, and were narrated to about how trusted people meant to guard prisoners could be bought over to endanger members of the public in exchange and in pursuit of money and shiny cars.
It was no surprise when earlier this month, Google announced that Thabo Bester was among the most searched-for persons in South Africa this year. Finding Thabo, anyone?
IOL Entertainment reported that Bester and his shocker prison escape, with all its twists and turns, landed him the top spot of the most searched individuals in the country.
The story scored GroundUp journalists Daniel Steyn and Marecia Damons the 2023 Vodacom Journalist of the Year awards after their reports exposed how Bester, convicted of rape and murder a decade ago, had faked his own death and escaped from the Mangaung Correctional Centre, which was being privately run by G4S.
The plot of Bester’s escape from the maximum prison, using prison staff to aid his escape, read like something from a movie script, except it was real.
It involved dead bodies, some of which were found dumped in rivers, while others were buried in coffins filled not with bodies but with mielie meal instead.
The Bester/Magudumana also represents a spectacular fall from grace for the aesthetics doctor, who ran a successful practice and was revered as someone you need to know, to being denied bail multiple times by multiple courts for her part in the sorry Bester saga.
G4S security supervisor Senohe Matsoara, who scored himself a sweet VW T-Roc worth around R600,000 and supposedly, from the proceeds of the Bester escape, is one of the most integral members of the escape plan.
Integriton’s CCTV technician, Tebogo James Lipholo, who allegedly disconnected the cameras on the night Bester escaped, is also a key figure. He is alleged to have pocketed R10,000 for his part in the escape and was married just a day before Bester's escape.
Magudumana’s dad, Zolile Sekeleni, is also arrested for allegedly hiring a bakkie that was used to transport the decoy body to the prison.
– May 2022: Magudumana claims a body from a government mortuary.
– May 5, 2022: Bester “dies” in a prison fire in a supposed suicide. He is later found to have escaped, and the body of Karabo Bereng is the one planted in the cell. Bereng was significantly shorter than Bester, which also raised suspicion during the postmortem. Matsoara, Lipholo, and Sekeleni assist in the escape plan.
– May 2022: Bester joins Magudumana in their rented Hyde Park hideout.
– May 2022: After claiming a number of bodies from the State, the police confiscate what was believed to be Bester’s body.
– May 2022: Magudumana approaches North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, claiming she is Bester’s customary wife, seeking an order for the body to be released to her for the purpose of cremation. She claims Bester paid her father lobola.
– June 20, 2022: Bester is spotted at a Woolworths supermarket in Sandton, with long hair, in the company of Magudumana and her two girl children. The picture only emerges in March 2023.
– July 2022: The Pretoria High Court matter over Bester's body rages on, as the DNA of Maria Mabaso fails to match that of the fake Bester burnt to death in the prison fire. Magudumana claims Bester's mom is dead.
– August 2022: An autopsy confirms the body in Bester's cell died due to blunt force trauma to the head, with no signs of smoke inhalation.
– August 2022: Judge Edwin Cameron, who is the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, leaks the autopsy report to GroundUp as police ask for the matter to be kept confidential.
– August 2022: Matsoara is fired by G4S on suspicion he aided Bester's escape.
– October 2022: A Cape Town resident admits to having come across a Porsche-driving Bester, having sex with him, and partying with him.
– March 2023: Magudumana leaves her two daughters at school and escapes with Bester. They escape through Zimbabwe, and tracing teams track them through southern Africa.
– April 2023: Bester and Magudumana are arrested with their Mozambican driver in Arusha, Tanzania. They return to South Africa in a chartered flight, and they are arrested at Lanseria Airport.
– April 2023: Sekeleni, Matsoara, and Lipholo are arrested in relation to the Bester escape.
– May 2023: Department of Correctional Services announces its intention to end its prison contract with G4S.
– July 2023: Magudumana heads to the Bloemfontein High Court, seeking to declare her arrest in Tanzania unlawful. Her bid is dismissed.
– August 2023: Bester claims expensive luxury items, such as clothes and tech brands, have been stolen from him by police during his arrest.
– August 2023: After months apart, Magudumana and Bester are smitten on the court dock as they see each other for the first time since their re-arrest. Weeks later, Magudumana, in a fresh bail bid, claims Bester kidnapped her. The bail bid fails.
– September 2023: Magudumana collapses in court. The State has withdrawn charges against three former G4S employees implicated in the case: Nastassja Jansen, Thabang Matthews Mier, and Moeketsi April Ramolula.
The Bester and Magudumana saga is set to return to court in February next year.
The accused in the matter are now Bester, Magudumana, Sekeleni, Matsoara, Lipholo, Zanda Moyo, suspended G4S employee Tieho Frans Makhotsa and former G4S guard Buti Masukela.
Charges against Jansen, Mier and Ramolula were withdrawn in September 2023.
Heading into 2024, the Bester/Magudumana story is one that is expected to continue capturing the public's imagination as it is expected to go to trial, while the battle over the prison contract is also expected to hit the courts.