Cape Town - The Inspecting Judge of Prisons, Edwin Cameron has revealed that Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola was told of Thabo Bester’s apparent escape as early as last October.
Cameron told Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services that he had thought that Lamola and his officials were going to try to get investigations going as swiftly as possible.
He said Lamola had expressed concern about the situation.
He said the escape of Bester left them in complete disbelief on how he pulled off such a daring prison break.
The Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons had for months tried to get the ministers and other senior officials to get to the bottom of the matter.
“The Minister and I also in October had a telephone conversation where we discussed the (Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons Bill), but I also gave him an oral briefing,” said Cameron.
“At the time we were struck with disbelief. The problem was that there were intersecting investigations and they were grinding slowly. It was hard to believe what had happened,” he said.
Cameron said they knew by August that the DNA of the burnt body in Bester’s cell did not match that of Bester, and this was related to the authorities.
Cameron said Lamola on Thursday reminded him of their telephone conversation last October where he had expressed concern about the escape of Bester.
“The Minister expressed concern. He made a joke with me this morning (before the committee meeting) that when I mentioned it to him (back last year) he thought that I had smoked something,” said Cameron.
This was based on the fact that Lamola had trusted his officials that they would be able to get to the bottom of the matter.
Cameron said all the parties should have acted with haste in investigating the Bester matter as soon as they were aware last year that the body found in Cell 35 was not his, that the DNA did not match and that this was a daring escape.
He said he was surprised that Dr Nandipha Magudumana was not arrested when she filed an application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria last August to claim the body as that of Bester.
Magudumana had alleged in the application that she was the customary law wife of Bester.
An SAPS official had disputed Magudumana’s claims in an answering affidavit in the High Court.
He also said the regional cluster director of G4S in Southern Africa, Renso Smit was told about this.
“We told Mr Renso Smit on February 2, 2023 this would have huge implications for G4S operations worldwide. There was defensiveness rooted in self interest, in taking responsibility.
“I do think the original and founding sin was committed by officials in Mangaung who colluded with Thabo Bester for years and Dr Magudumana who started visiting in 2017,” said Cameron.