16 May 2023
All eight accused in the Thabo Bester escape saga appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Tuesday. The bail hearing for five of the accused will continue on Friday while the main criminal trial, in which all accused, including Bester, face a total of 16 charges, has been set for 20 June.
The court day started with the virtual appearance of Thabo Bester, who escaped from Mangaung Correctional Centre on 3 May 2022. He appeared via video conference from Kgosi Mampuru prison in Pretoria, a five-hour drive from the court.
Bester appeared with a shaven head and a Burberry hoodie. Burberry is a London-based fashion brand, and their hoodies retail for between R16,000 and R23,000.
The state applied for the case to be postponed to 20 June for further police investigation. Bester’s legal representative, Tsoeunyane Pela, did not oppose the postponement but did express his concern that he is unable to take confidential instruction if Bester appears virtually in an open court.
He asked Magistrate Mohlolo Khabisi to consider allowing Bester to come to the court on Wednesday to bring a separate matter before the court. Khabisi asked Pela to explain what this separate matter entails.
Pela said that it would be in the interest of justice for the court to “satisfy itself” that the man in the dock is indeed Thabo Bester. Referring to the death certificate issued for the burnt body in Thabo Bester’s cell on 3 May 2022. Khabisi insisted that the court did not have sufficient evidence that it had the correct person before the court.
The state prosecutor chuckled at Pela’s suggestion. Wagging his finger at Bester, who appeared on a big screen, he said: “There is a person in the accused box that happens to be Thabo Bester.”
Magistrate Khabisi said: “This court has got no reason to believe that the wrong person was brought before the court.”
Bester’s case was then postponed to 20 June. The magistrate, prosecution, court officials and the media then moved to a different courtroom for Nandipha Magudumana’s appearance. Magudumana also appeared virtually from Kroonstad Prison where she is being held. Pela is also representing Magudumana and did not oppose the state’s application for her to return to court on 20 June.
In a third courtroom, the other alleged conspirators sat in the dock for the continuation of their bail hearing. Magudumana’s father, Zolile Sekeleni, was excused and told to also return on 20 June. His bail of R10,000 was extended. His bail conditions include that he needs to report to Port Edward police station weekly.
This left the four former employees of Mangaung Correctional Centre, Senohe Matsoara, Motenyani Masukela, Tieho Makhotsa and Nastassja Jansen; and Teboho Lipholo, a CCTV technician and former employee of Integritron Security Services.
During last week’s bail hearing, the investigating officer on the Bester case, Lieutenant-Colonel Tieho Jobo Flyman gave startling testimony of how Bester’s conspirators allegedly helped orchestrate the escape.
On Tuesday, the defence cross-examined Flyman. Matsoara’s Lawyer Kagisho Morori challenged Flyman’s previous assertion that Matsoara and Katlego Bereng, the man police believe was found dead in Bester’s cell, were drinking partners. He said there was an error in Flyman’s testimony that Matsoara had visited Lesotho eight times in two months. Matsoara had, in fact, only visited Lesotho four times, according to Morori.
Morori argued that his client needed to be granted bail because he complied with the police during his arrest and had handed over his passport, meaning he is not a flight risk. Flyman had previously said that releasing Matsoara on bail may put others in danger and that Matsoara knows the state’s witnesses. Morori asked Flyman why he made this statement, to which Flyman replied, that Matsoara is linked to gangs. Morori also questioned Flyman’s previous assertions that the Bloemfontein community is enraged and may take the law into their own hands.
Lipholo’s legal representative, advocate Tshotlego Makamedi, took issue with Flyman’s testimony that Lipholo had approached the police with information. According to Makamedi, Lipholo was first approached by the police and then arrested.
“In his affidavit, my client said he was at Mimosa Mall when he was called by the police and you said he is the one who called the police, meaning he complied and provided you with more information, so why do you say he must not be granted bail?” asked Makamedi.
The bail hearing will resume on Friday, 19 May.