In May 2022, a story broke in South Africa of a man found dead in his cell after a fire broke out in Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, Free State. Later, it was revealed that the burnt body was notorious Facebook rapist Thabo Bester. The body was burnt beyond recognition. However, the details show the story isn’t as straightforward as it seems. It may have all been an elaborate plan for Bester to escape prison.
In the beginning
Back in 2011, Thabo Bester was running a series of elaborate cons and ruses to lure women who were aspiring models. He would then rob them with a knife and, in other instances, sexually assault them. Most of his targets were from Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town.
Bester came into the limelight after he stabbed Nomfundo Tyhulu, a car saleswoman who sold him a BMW. He stabbed her in September 2011 at a Milnerton bed and breakfast. In May 2012, he was arrested and tried for her murder.
While in court, Bester broke down severally, claiming he was a victim of sexual assault. It was revealed that his grandmother raised him after being abandoned by his mother at a young age. He said he didn’t know his parents, and his grandmother had an alcohol abuse disorder and was abusive. He also said he was assaulted by one of his grandmother’s friends, and she was unresponsive when she told him.
After her death, Bester said he moved to a squatter camp. While there, Bester explained that a man offered to help him, but instead, he was locked and held as he was sexually assaulted. He turned to crime to support himself. He was previously convicted of fraud in 2009 and fined but ended up serving time in prison because he couldn’t afford the fine, and while in prison, he was assaulted. Bester pled for leniency in the 2011 trial, claiming he wanted the opportunity to make things right.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Western Cape High Court. After multiple postponements- he was sentenced to 50 years at the Durban Regional Court for raping and robbing two women whom he lured to a modelling photoshoot. But this was later reduced to 30 years in a Pietermaritzburg High Court after an appeal in April 2013.
Bester pleaded guilty to killing Tyhulu. In a statement, he said he was sorry and didn’t understand what motivated him to take someone’s life. However, the Western Cape High Court judge said Bester showed no remorse for killing Tyhulu. Bester also got a 25-year sentence for robbery.
Dr Nandipha Magudumana
However, while in prison, Bester may have run elaborate cons with the help of Nandipha Magudumana. She operates a cosmetic surgery company called Optimum Medical Aesthetic Solutions and was allegedly Bester’s customary wife. She met Bester in 2006 while studying at Wits University. They had a good relationship until they lost contact in 2011. But she failed to explain how she was already in a civil marriage since 2013. She allegedly has two children with her civil partner. South African customary law doesn’t permit a customary union if you are already in a civil partnership. In 2017, she claims she reached out to Bester in prison to rekindle their relationship. She funded his prison account.
South African Twitter users also figure that Magudumana was potentially laundering Bester’s money while he was in prison. She started a property business, a travel agency, and a Porsche, Ferrari, and Range Rover. Magudumana has also had her practising licence revoked or suspended multiple times.
Bester was also allegedly running a glamorous business while in lockup. He was using the alias Tom Motsepe. In 2018, he ran a conference where he spoke to the audience via “video from New York,” but the audience was unaware that the video was being transmitted from prison. In another “women in media” conference, the event ran afoul after multiple accusations of fraud when organisers originally announced that Halle Berry and Taraji P Henson would be speaking. Both actors’ reps said they weren’t part of the event. The event, run by 21st Century Media, also used logos similar to American media company 21st Century Fox and British media service Sky.
In May 2022, a fire broke out at the prison where Bester served his sentences concurrently. Correctional Services spokesperson Singa-Bakho Nxumalo stated that on May 3rd, they discovered the burnt body of Bester after the fire in his cell and would start investigations into what started the fire.
However, post-mortem findings on the body revealed that the person had died before the fire of blunt force trauma to the head. There were also discrepancies in the height. The body belonged to a man who was 1.45m, while Bester was recorded as having 1.7m in a police mugshot. It was also noted that there was a strong smell of paraffin.
An unnamed source to GroundUp said that a prison officer placed Bester in a corner cell alone before the fire broke out. The cell is rarely used because there is limited camera access. According to a logbook accessed by GroundUp, an official reported smoke at 3 am. Just after 4 am, more smoke was seen coming out of the cell Bester was placed in. However, the cameras were at the wrong angles. A few seconds before the first report of the fire, two people were seen leaving the prison in a hurry.
The logbook further adds that the police station was called at 4.25 am, but the number didn’t work. Calls were placed to the 10111 number. They were answered at 5 am, and their call was transferred to the local police. The person in Bester’s cell was declared dead at 5.10 am, but police arrived at 6.45 am. The officers who placed Bester in his cell and two others on duty on the night of the fire have been suspended.
Magudumana collected the body, intending to cremate it. She took the body to a mortuary in Soweto before police reclaimed it. She filed a petition with the Pretoria High Court to cremate the body, but a decision is yet to be reached. However, in her Request for Removal of a Body application letter from July 2022, she intended to cremate it. She also accused the police of intimidation and threats.
Mabaso Meisie Marya, a woman claiming to be Bester’s biological mother, tried to claim the burnt body. However, she wasn’t given access after no DNA match to the deceased. Marya then added that she was unaware of a marriage between Bester and Magudumana.
Is Thabo Bester still alive?
Bester was allegedly spotted in Sandton. Photos from June 2022 show a man resembling Thabo Bester and a woman resembling Magudumana at Woolworths. The man resembling Bester was with a child who looked like one of Magudumana’s children from her Instagram.
There has been no further confirmation as to his whereabouts. Magudumana had disabled her Instagram account but recently announced that her cosmetics practice was open for bookings.
An unnamed woman came forward on Twitter recounting her encounter in October 2022 with Thabo Bester. She said she went on a date with him at a Cape Town restaurant, and he used the alias Katiego or KC. She was on a solo date, but he approached her, asking to join her. Thabo Bester claimed that he was a director of Arum Properties and drove a Porsche. After dropping her home, he made plans to join her and her friends later at a club. On their second encounter, he was rough with her during their sexual encounter. Bester later left with his companions, and news of his identity left her scared, shocked, and disgusted.
Another woman, a dietician called Palesa, said she met him at their offices in August/September 2022. They met after he and other people called and sent her multiple messages presenting her with modelling opportunities. Bester mentioned photoshoots, international trips, and property shoots, which she found made no sense. When he realised she wasn’t buying what he was selling, he cut the meeting short, saying the opportunity wouldn’t work for her because she works full time.
Magudumana also left the Hyde Park mansion she was renting shortly after the news went viral in March 2023. She also restored her Instagram account and stated that her cosmetics company was back in operation, but her whereabouts are unknown.
South African police are still investigating the fire. The Department of Correctional Services said they could not provide further information as of March 2023.
Update 08/04/2023. Thabo Bester and Dr Nandipha Magudama arrested
Thabo Bester and Dr Nandipha Magudama were arrested in Tanzania on 07/04/2023. They were arrested along with a Mozambican national who was assisting them. They were in possession of several passports with different names and none of them had been stamped.
The Tanzanian police had followed Thabo and his wife from the time they left their hotel in a black SUV. Apparently, they were in Arusha, which is close to the Kenyan border and it is believed that they were crossing over into Kenya.
According to GroundUp, it is likely that Bester and Magudumana will be deported to South Africa as they are in Tanzania illegally. It seems that a team from South Africa will be heading to Tanzania to bring back the fugitives. After escaping from prison, Bester and Magudumana lived in a rented mansion in Sandton. Bester used an ID document and driver’s licence under the name ‘Katlego Nkwana’. The couple operated Arum Properties together, scamming several people into paying millions for construction projects that were never completed. It was raided by the police two weeks later and they were also searching for their maid who disappeared.
If you would like to know the timeline of this dramatic weird story check out A timeline: How Dr Nandipha met Thabo Bester
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