Temporary manager to head Mangaung prison after Thabo Bester escape furore
The correctional services commissioner confirmed the rapist and murderer was assisted in his escape despite G4S’s denials
National commissioner for correctional services Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale has appointed a temporary manager at the Mangaung Correctional Centre after the “embarrassing” Thabo Bester debacle, which he said “undermined the authority of the state”.
The department of correctional services provided updates from the facility on Thursday morning.
Bester escaped from the centre on May 3 2022, the department confirmed, after it was initially believed he had committed suicide by setting himself alight in his cell.
Security company G4S insisted Bester died in the fire, but confirmed it had dismissed three employees in relation to their conduct on the day.
Thobakgale detailed the outcomes of an investigation carried out by the department. It found that “the director of the Mangaung correctional services centre has lost effective control of the centre”.
“Among other factors, the Correctional Services Act does provide for a mechanism to restore safety and security by taking control of the facility by means of appointing a temporary manager. This will mean that this temporary manager will perform the functions of the director. In this instance, I have appointed Mr Patrick Ali Mashabathakga as the temporary manager of the Mangaung correctional facility.”
Thobakgale confirmed Bester was assisted in his escape despite G4S’s previous assertions. To this end, the director of contract management based at the department’s head office, the correctional services controller at Mangaung and deputy controller had been suspended.
“And also as a result, the departmental investigation unit has started looking into the conduct of the three officials and any other officials,” he said. “I have appointed Ms Gladys Rantente to be the serving controller on behalf of the department at Mangaung.”
Thobakgale also confirmed that the department had deployed a “track-and-trace team to look for Bester” and appealed to those with any information to come forward.
His announcement comes as the justice and correctional services committee confirmed it would meet the department on Tuesday to discuss the matter.
Committee chair Bulelani Magwanishe said: “At this stage the committee is only aware of the information that it gathered from media reports about the alleged death in a fire of the inmate, which is now alleged to have been a scam with the new allegations that he escaped from Manguang Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein.”
He added that the committee had not been briefed by the correctional services department regarding this serious allegation.
“Indeed, government is embarrassed,” said minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni on Thursday.
“It’s embarrassing that a convicted criminal sentenced to life escapes from prison. That’s why the cabinet has instructed law enforcement to make sure he is recaptured as soon as possible.”
Ntshavheni’s comments were echoed by minister of justice & correctional services Ronald Lamola, who gave the keynote address at the inauguration ceremony of more than 600 aspirant prosecutors who completed their training in Johannesburg on Thursday morning. After the ceremony, Lamola was asked about the Thabo Bester escape and whether he should step aside.
“The reality is that he must be arrested and recaptured, wherever it is. And whoever played a role to help [Bester] to escape from the facility must also be arrested. And whoever also played a role beyond the escape from the facility to help him outside and all those things, all of them must be people of interest.
“So at the end of the day, this has been a huge public embarrassment for the government. The only way to redeem ourselves is to recapture him. We believe that if he’s recaptured, the message will be sent that you can’t escape from our facilities and nothing happens. And we believe that will send a good message to society and also to the international community, that the rule of law is still prevailing in SA.”
When Lamola was told there are certain people calling for him to step aside from his role as minister, he replied: “I think such calls must be informed by the investigative reports. It must be informed by who played what role and also what then becomes the consequences. As soon as we became aware [of the situation] we did our best to ensure that the terms of the contracts were adhered to and the Correctional Services Act is complied with.
“Myself and the national commissioner will take the ultimate responsibility in terms of the Correctional Services Act. Even if there is an [private] operator of the facility. And for that reason, we have taken action in terms of the act, and we will continue to account to the people of SA as to what happened,” said Lamola.
Update: March 30 2023
This story has been updated with new information.
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