- South Africa has been gripped with the extraordinary prison escape of the "Facebook rapist", Thabo Bester.
- Convicted and awaiting trial prisoners manage to escape from correctional facilities around the country every year.
- In the 2021/2022 financial year, 22 inmates managed to escape, while 117 prisoners broke out from prisons the year before.
While the seemingly innovative prison break of "Facebook rapist" Thabo Bester has gripped the country, convicted criminals and awaiting trial prisoners break out of correctional facilities around the country every year.
Bester, who was serving a life sentence for murder and rape at the Mangaung Correctional Centre in the Free State, reportedly died in his cell during the early morning hours of 3 May 2022.
At least, this was according to a statement by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), which added that Bester had died by suicide after he set himself alight in the prison managed by security company G4S.
An investigation by GroundUp revealed that the body found in the cell was not the Facebook rapist and the evidence suggested he had escaped.
Since then, police have confirmed that they are investigating a case of murder as an autopsy revealed that the charred body found showed signs of blunt force trauma to the head before it was set alight.
News24 reported that DCS confirmed that DNA sequencing with a person identified as the mother of Bester failed to indicate a common ancestor or a match, meaning Bester had escaped prison.
READ | Prison break: G4S officials working when Thabo Bester escaped suspended, dismissed - correctional services
Speaking to News24, DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the body found in Cell 35 had yet to be identified, but that all other inmates - except Bester - had been accounted for.
This suggests the body found in the cell had been brought into the prison, adding yet another layer of complexity around Bester's escape.
While the prison break of Bester is unique in the way that the escape was executed, his breakout is not uncommon.
Dozens of escapes have been reported over the years in South Africa.
According to DCS’ annual reports for the 2021/2022 financial year, 22 inmates escaped from various prisons around the country.
"It is also pleasing to note that the escape statistics of 22 is the lowest that has been reported in the past 27 years," the report read.
In the 2020/2021 financial year, a total of 117 inmates escaped, while 34 broke out of correctional facilities the financial year before.
Here are some of the recent prison breaks:
- In March 2022, News24 reported that four dangerous prisoners escaped from Rooigrond Prison, near Mahikeng, in North West. While a cell window was found broken, and there were sheets typically used to shimmy down from a height, at the time officials were unsure of how the men escaped from the high perimeter fence. The men who escaped had been convicted for crimes including murder, rape and robbery.
- In April 2022, three remand detainees managed to escape the Malmesbury Correctional Facility.
- In 2020, 69 inmates escaped from the same prison during exercise time. News24 reported that the awaiting trial prisoners overpowered officials and took their keys before escaping through the main entrance and over the roof.
- On 18 October 2022, seven prisoners escaped from the Makhanda Correctional Facility in the Eastern Cape. At the time, police said the inmates had seemingly escaped through a window during the early hours of the morning. Some of the escapees were in prison on charges including murder, attempted murder and rhino poaching.
While not as recent, a more renowned prison break was that of Annanias Mathe.
READ | Serial rapist Ananias Mathe died of natural causes - correctional services dept
News24 reported that Mathe, who was convicted and sentenced for rape, murder and house robbery, was known for several escape attempts from maximum security prisons across the country.
Among his many escape attempts before his death in 2016, Mathe managed to break out from Johannesburg Central Prison in January 2005 and Pretoria C-Max Prison in 2006, Sapa reported.