“Facebook rapist” may have pulled off sensational prison escape
- Photos from June 2022 show a man who looks like convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester shopping in Sandton City.
- Bester was thought to have died in a fire in his prison cell at Mangaung private prison in May 2022.
- GroundUp received no reply from SAPS, DCS, or Bester’s “customary wife” celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana. JICS said they had not seen these images before.
GroundUp has seen photographs of a man who closely resembles “Facebook rapist” Thabo Bester shopping in Woolworths in Sandton City nearly two months after his reported death in prison. The photograph shows him with long hair, wearing a tracksuit and sunglasses.
The photographs, taken on 30 June 2022, add to the mystery surrounding Bester’s reported death.
On 3 May 2022, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) announced Bester had died in a prison fire in Mangaung.
But several elements suggest that he may have escaped from prison and that the body found after the fire may be that of another man.
In the pictures sent to GroundUp, the man is accompanied by a child who looks like the photos of the daughter of celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana on Magudumana’s Instagram page.
A woman in a cream-coloured outfit stands with her back to the camera.
The metadata of the photos confirms that they were taken in Sandton City. GroundUp has spoken to two people who knew Bester who said they are convinced he is the man in the photos.
The person who leaked the photos to us, who also took them, told GroundUp that she had recognised Magudumana in the shop.
She did not recognise Bester but was surprised to see Magudumana with a man who was not her husband. She took a picture to show a friend who is a fan of Magudumana.
GroundUp sent the pictures to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) for comment.
Their spokesperson Emerantia Cupido told GroundUp, that it was “the first time JICS has seen these photos”.
Asked whether the pictures might confirm that Bester had escaped from prison, Cupido said, “The Inspecting Judge, Justice Edwin Cameron is deeply concerned by the evidence he has received thus far, however, JICS cannot confirm this, as we are still busy with the JICS investigation.”
Cupido added that they, “unfortunately [do not] have the equipment or forensic accreditation to confirm the authenticity of these photos or the identity of the person in these photos”.
On Wednesday GroundUp reported that days after Bester’s death was announced in May 2022, Magudumana had collected the body from the morgue but it was later confiscated by police for further investigations.
A woman claiming to be Bester’s mother also tried to claim the body, but her DNA did not match that of the body.
Magudumana then approached the high court in Pretoria asking that the body be released to her, claiming in an affidavit to be Bester’s “customary law” wife.
The court has not yet ruled on the matter.
There are several strange circumstances surrounding the fire
- Bester was moved into the cell soon before the fire;
- the man who died did not die from the fire but from a blow to the head;
- minutes before the prison fire, two people were seen leaving the prison;
- CCTV cameras were apparently not correctly positioned;
- the height of the body recorded during the autopsy was 25cm shorter than Bester’s height displayed on a police mugshot;
- the DNA of the body did not match that of the woman who claims to be Bester’s mother; and
- to our knowledge, the body has not yet been positively identified as Bester (if it has, neither the police nor DCS have told us).
However, there may be valid explanations for these things
- the photos leaked to GroundUp could be fake (very unlikely), or it could be someone else in the pictures;
- the woman claiming to be Bester’s mother may not be his biological mother, explaining the DNA discrepancy;
- the coroner could have made a mistake when measuring the height of the body during the autopsy; or
- the people who left the prison just before the fire may be unconnected to Bester.
Whether or not Bester is alive, this matter has raised troubling questions about G4S-managed Mangaung Correctional Centre, DCS, and the police.
Ten months after the fire, there are still no answers from the police or the Department of Correctional Services.
Bester’s links to Dr Nandi’s businesses
It appears that the same man pictured shopping with Magudumana has been contacting people on behalf of Arum Holdings, a company solely owned by Magudumana.
Screenshots circulating on social media display a text conversation between Arum Holdings’ Instagram account and an anonymous person in August and September 2022.
The person was invited by someone using the Arum Holdings Instagram account to a meeting to discuss a potential collaboration on an upcoming Netflix series, “Hot property chick”.
A screenshot of the Zoom meeting shows a man resembling Thabo Bester in a luxury car wearing a designer watch. The man has the same facial features as the man in the photos taken in Sandton.
But we must emphasise that GroundUp has not yet been able to verify the authenticity of the above.
Several other people have taken to social media with similar stories about Arum Holdings.
GroundUp has been able to verify at least one of these stories, in which someone was asked to travel to Cape Town at their own cost to audition for a Netflix show.
Arum Holdings doesn’t have a working website (its last archived state is from 18 December 2021), and according to its Instagram page, which was still active 16 March, it appears to advertise high-end properties.
Arum Holdings (Pty) Ltd was registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) in 2017, with Magudumana as a sole director.
The Instagram accounts of Arum Holdings, and of I Media and Optimum Medical Solutions, all owned by Magudumana, seem to have been deactivated since Thursday night.
Magudumana approached the Pretoria High Court in May 2022, asking for custody of the body, which she said was Bester’s.
Magudumana confirmed in her court affidavit that she made payments to Bester while he was in prison and that she paid Sopema Funerals in Soweto for services rendered while they had possession of the body found in Bester’s cell.
Receipts submitted as evidence to the court show that R3,600 was paid by Arum Holdings (Pty) Ltd to Sopema Funerals.
Another R3,600 was paid to Sopema Funerals from the account of Vita Push (Pty) Ltd.
Magudumana’s affidavit also shows that she made a number of payments of between R400 and R2,000 to Bester while he was in prison.
She also paid an amount of R7,203 to Damelin College, supposedly for a course Bester was doing.
Magudumana is also the sole director of “I Media”, a production company that creates a variety of multimedia content.
It was registered as a company in 2020. Earlier this year, Magudumana posted a video on the I Media Instagram account.
An anonymous source who worked closely with “I Media” told GroundUp that they had several video meetings with a man who looked like Thabo Bester. These meetings happened while Bester was still in prison.
Magudumana did not respond to GroundUp’s questions for this article.
Where are the authorities?
In the wake of our reports, Minister of Police Bheki Cele, answering questions from journalists during a press conference on Friday, according to Heidi Giokos of ENCA, said that the identity of the body found in Bester’s cell has not been confirmed through DNA.
He said he will discuss the matter with Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola.
Spokesperson for Free State SAPS, Brigadier Motantsi Makhele, told GroundUp that the investigation “has reached a very critical stage, therefore it won’t be in the interest of justice to give any comment now, as advised by the investigating team”.
He said “the team is already aware of all the information making rounds on the matter”.
“The absence of a final investigative report from any above report makes it difficult authoritatively [to answer] the questions raised,” said Chrispin Phiri, spokesperson for Minister Lamola, in response to GroundUp.
“If these reports are found to be true, this would prove to be the most sensational escape in the history of our nation,” he said.
“The Minister has instructed the National Commissioner to do everything which is necessary to ensure that there is finality on the matter.”
It is unclear why more than ten months after Bester supposedly died, there is still no publicly known result of a DNA test that once and for all confirms whether or not the burnt body found in the cell is Bester’s.
In response to DCS’ claim that it doesn’t have the autopsy report, GroundUp posted the document online, explaining that it is a public court document.
It redacted the last two pages because they contain irrelevant identifying information.
GroundUp said it received no reply to questions sent to SAPS, DCS or Magudumana.
By Daniel Steyn and Marecia Damons for GroundUp. Republished under CC BY-ND 4.0.