Manhunt Launched in South Africa for Convicted Rapist Who Faked Death in Shocking Prison Break
16:59 28.03.2023 (Updated: 15:54 13.04.2023)
Thabo Bester, who was serving a life sentence for rape, robbery, and murder, allegedly set himself alight in his cell in May 2022, leading authorities in South Africa to believe he had died.
South Africa is in shock after a convicted rapist and murderer, Thabo Bester, faked his own death and escaped from prison, prompting a manhunt by police following a press release by the country's Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services.
Police had believed Bester died after setting himself on fire in a cell at the Mangaung Correctional Center, a public-private partnership facility in Bloemfontein, in May 2022, but DNA tests conducted over the weekend revealed that the remains found in his cell belonged to someone else.
"At this point, our priority is to find this fugitive of justice and establish exactly how he faked his death," police spokeswoman Athlenda Mathe told the media on Monday.
Bester, also known as the "Facebook rapist", had been sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for rape, robbery and murder. He allegedly lured female victims on the social media platform, pretending that he ran a media business, before assaulting them.
Women's rights groups in South Africa have been outraged by the case, and some have accused the government of not doing enough to tackle violence against women. According to police figures, over 12,000 rapes were recorded across the country from October to December.
"The unfolding of this story has been like a movie and sent shivers down everyone’s spines. … I can imagine what it did to the victims," said Bafana Khumalo, co-director of the NGO Sonke Gender Justice.
Bester's escape has also triggered criticism from some South African opposition parties, with the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) opposition party claiming the case is a "testament to the incompetence of the Correctional Services system," in the country. The party stressed that corruption was "at the centre of Bester's escape."
"We call for a massive manhunt to be conducted by the South African Police Service, in conjunction with intelligence services, to track and apprehend Thabo Bester. Furthermore, all of those who were employed at Mangaung Correctional Center during the period of Bester's imprisonment and his escape must immediately be brought in for questioning," the EFF said in a statement.
A murder investigation has now been opened, as an autopsy revealed the person found dead in Bester's cell was killed before being set ablaze.
"A post-mortem conducted on the body that burnt beyond recognition in Cell 35 at Mangaung Correctional Center, revealed that it was an adult male with blunt force trauma to his head," the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) said. "The DNA sequencing with a person identified to be the mother of Bester failed to indicate a common ancestor, or a match."
Police have appealed to the public for any information that may help lead to the capture of the escaped convict and find the "people who are directly involved in this matter as well as his accomplices."