SOUTH Africa’s Department of Correctional Services has failed to explain how a notorious rapist, dubbed the ‘Facebook rapist’, mysteriously set himself alight and burned to ashes while he was locked in a solitary cell at Mangaung Correctional Centre, one of the two private prisons in the country.
Sources from the Bloemfontein based prison told The Sunday Independent late last week that Thabo Bester was put into solitary confinement against his will on April 29 and that his plea to be returned to his normal cell fell was rejected.
And four days later, Bester, who was serving a life sentence for the murder of Johannesburg model and car saleswoman Nomfundo Tyhulu, was found burned to ashes in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
‘Thabo complained to the prison management that there was a hit on him after he failed to pay a protection fee to the members of the 26 Gang, instead he was dragged to solitary confinement kicking and screaming last week Friday against his will.
‘They told him it was for his own protection while he felt his rights were being violated as the authorities were supposed to lock those threatening him in a solitary cell,’ said another prison official, who asked not to be named as he is not allowed to speak to the media.
The official has alleged that when Bester was discovered on Tuesday morning, he was burned to ashes.
‘The man was burned to ashes, it looks like he had covered himself with his mattress and allegedly set himself alight. You couldn’t even recognise him, we just assume that the ashes belong to him as he was the only person in that cell,’ the official explained.
The official added that Bester was last seen alive at about 10pm on Monday when the night patrol officer switched off the lights.
‘The officer is supposed to do a headcount of all the prisoners before switching off the lights for the night, and the official claims he saw Bester alive then.’
It is not clear how Bester managed to set himself alive after the lights were switched off.
‘We are told that there was a smell of petrol in his cell and it is also reported that a cellphone and a laptop were also found in there, and nobody knows how it got there as he was supposed to be thoroughly searched when he was locked in there.’
The official added that it is a mystery where the night guard was when all this happened.
‘Bester was only recovered when a kitchen worker who reported for duty just before 4am on Tuesday saw smoke coming out of his cell and raised the alarm but the prison officials on duty that night failed to see this.’
Correctional Services spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, failed to answer specific questions sent to him last week around Bester’s death but he confirmed his death, The Sunday Independent reported.
‘His body was discovered by the officials at about 03:35 on 3 May 2022. He was in a single cell. The investigation into this matter has been initiated as it is important to establish the circumstances leading to the death of an inmate. The cell was on fire and this will be probed by the department in ascertaining the cause of the fire,’ Nxumalo said.
However, Nxumalo couldn’t confirm or deny that Bester burned to ashes or explain how the inmate managed to set himself alight.
But he confirmed that G4S, the British security firm managing the facility in partnership with a local consortium, is going to face a huge fine from the department.
Award-winning journalist, Ruth Hopkins, has previously exposed the centre for allegedly abusing prisoners, illegally holding inmates in isolation for up to three years and denying them life-saving medication. But the company has vehemently denied the allegations.
Bester became notorious for using Facebook to lure women to meet him, claiming that international modelling scouts were interested in them. Then he would rape them and rob them using a knife.
He was previously sentenced to 50 years in prison for raping and robbing two models. He was jailed for 15 years on each count of rape and 15 years on each count of robbery. Five years of each robbery sentence was suspended.
Bester, who was based in Durban, and Tyhulu met in Sandton where she worked at a car dealership and sold him a car while he was running an events-hosting company.
The pair started dating afterwards when they were both 23 years old in January 2011 after the car sale. Two months after they met they flew to Cape Town together for a holiday.
Bester pleaded guilty to killing and robbing Tyhulu during what he said was an argument and he admitted to stabbing her in the chest before stealing her cellphone and laptop. He was jailed for life for this murder in August 2012 and sentenced to an additional 25 years for aggravated armed robbery.