Thabo Bester: The man behind SA’s latest grand escape

27 March 2023 - 16:06
By Orrin Singh
A man resembling 'Facebook rapist' Thabo Bester, seen in Woolworths in Sandton nearly two months after Bester was supposed to have died in prison.
Image: GroundUp A man resembling 'Facebook rapist' Thabo Bester, seen in Woolworths in Sandton nearly two months after Bester was supposed to have died in prison.

The Thabo Bester case is proving to be one of SA’s most dramatic escapes from custody. It has left correctional services officials with egg on their faces after the convicted murderer, rapist and fraudster managed to con his way out of Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein. 

Bester, dubbed the “Facebook rapist”, first made headlines in 2011 after using the social media platform to lure women into thinking he was an international model scout, only to rob and rape them.

I resorted to crime to support myself. It is either you die or make a plan.

Bester, from Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, used various aliases, including that of Thomas Bester, as he evaded police for months and taunted them with frequent Facebook updates.

Broken home

According to claims made by Bester during mitigation of his sentence in October 2011, he had come from a broken home — not having known either of his parents — and was raped by a friend of his grandmother at an early age. 

Bester said he lived under excruciating conditions with his alcoholic grandmother and grandfather on a farm in Gauteng.

“My grandmother's friend hurt me when he raped me, and I had an operation on my behind,” he told the Durban regional court at the time. 

The situation worsened when his grandmother died, and he had to live with his friends in a squatter camp, he said. While living there he was approached by a man who had promised to look after him but then allegedly locked him in his house for days and raped him.

Bester told the court the difficulties he encountered forced him into crime. 

Life of crime

“I resorted to crime to support myself. It is either you die or make a plan,” Bester said in court in 2011. 

Before being convicted on two counts of rape in Durban in 2011 and the murder of model Nomfundo Tyhulu in Cape Town in 2012, Bester had been found guilty of fraud in 2009 and sentenced to six months in jail with an option of paying a R1,500 fine.

He claimed he didn’t have the money to pay the fine and was sent to prison, where he was sexually abused. 

“They treated me badly in prison because they thought I was from a well-off family.”

Shortly after being sentenced to more than 50 years in prison, which was later reduced to 30 years for the Durban rapes, which he pleaded guilty to, the Sunday Times revealed how in 2010 Bester conned two unsuspecting airline charter companies into giving him free flights worth more than R500,000.

The two chartered flights, between December 2010 and July 2011, were from Johannesburg's Lanseria Airport to Cape Town.

In December 2010 Bester chartered a Beechcraft 1900 from National Airways Corporation (NAC) to fly him and 16 people to Cape Town for four nights.

At the time NAC account manager Zubar Khan said he thought Bester, who was 23 years old, was a trendy “rich kid” with money to burn.

“He is a smooth talker. Looking back at it now, it seems like he’s done that before,” he said.

Bester signed all the correct documentation and allegedly produced a bogus internet transfer slip for R275,000.

When the money failed to appear in the account the next day, Khan said they cancelled the return trip.

In July 2011 Bester leased a private jet from Fortune Air to fly four models from Lanseria to Cape Town. 

The jet made a stopover in Durban to pick him up with another woman. 

The return leg of the flight was again cancelled after Fortune Air realised the internet transfer was fake.

Driven by lust 

Bester’s luck ran out when he was eventually arrested in Alberton in 2011. 

He outlined how he had been driven by lust to rape two of his victims in Durban as his initial intention was to just rob the women. 

Bester said his first victim responded to an advert for a presenter and model he had placed on the FHM magazine website in July.

He had lured her to a fake photoshoot in Durban to steal her cellphone and laptop, he said. On August 19, he travelled with the model to Durban in her car. 

They had checked into a hotel in Umhlanga, and while the model showered, Bester had walked to Gateway Shopping Centre, where he bought a kitchen knife and duct tape.

Bester said that, on his return, he had pointed the knife at the model. They were both stabbed as they tussled for the knife. He had then tied his victim up with duct tape.

“As I was exiting, I saw the complainant's legs and I was tempted sexually. My initial intention was to rob the complainant and I had accomplished this. After I saw the complainant's body I was impelled by lust and I then proceeded to rape her,” he said.

According to Bester, he fled to a hotel in Durban's Point Waterfront area.

Days later he met his second victim, a woman introduced to him by his girlfriend.

Bester had also planned to rob her. He booked a flight back to Johannesburg for his girlfriend and stayed in Durban, where he “romanced” the woman. 

“The complainant and I went to a guest house in Westville, and we went to The Pavilion that evening for supper, by which time we were fancying each other and began kissing. We slept together that night,” he said.

The next morning Bester held the woman at knifepoint and raped her. He fled with her cellphone, watch, cash and credit cards.

‘I don’t know why I killed her ...’

In August 2012 Bester told the Western Cape High Court he didn’t know why he had killed 23-year-old Cape Town model Nomfundo Tyhulu.

She was a good person who believed in me.

Bester claimed Tyhulu was the only one who had stood by him when people accused him of crimes in Durban.

“She was a good friend ... I knew her family. She was a good person. She believed in me,” he said in mitigation of sentence.

Bester met Tyhulu at a BMW dealership in Sandton, Johannesburg, in January 2011, where she sold him a new car.

They started a long-distance relationship two months later and flew to Cape Town together in September for a holiday.

In court it was revealed that Bester is a father to three girls, who at the time were aged seven, two, and 18 months, all from different women.

He pleaded guilty to robbing and killing her, after an argument at a Cape Town bed-and-breakfast on September 21. He stabbed her in the chest and fled with her cellphone and laptop.

In court it was revealed that Bester is a father to three girls, who at the time were aged seven, two, and 18 months, all from different women.

He was handed down a life sentence for the murder of Tyhulu.

'A con from behind bars'

Bester’s elaborate efforts to continue conning people from behind bars were uncovered during a recent investigation by GroundUp. 

The publication found that Bester ran a glamorous media company from prison called 21st Century Media, made to look like a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox, and was responsible for the “Women in Media” conference, which turned out to be a scam.

GroundUp published pictures and video footage of the glitzy launch of 21st Century Media in 2018, held at the Hilton Hotel in Sandton. 

The event was attended by members of Johannesburg’s high society, including celebrities Amanda Du Pont and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

Attendees were told the chairman of the company, “Tom Motsepe”, would video call from New York. But unbeknown to the audience, the man appearing on the big screen was actually convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester, speaking from prison.

Faked death 

For almost a year Bester has apparently been living as a free man, living the high life in plush estates while basking in the glory of his faked death. 

On the morning of May 3 2022 the department of correctional services claimed Bester had died after a fire had broken out in his single cell at about 03.35am. However, two months later a man who closely resembles Bester was spotted shopping in Woolworths in Sandton City. 

On March 16 GroundUp published two photos of what is almost certainly Bester and his celebrity doctor girlfriend, Nandipha Magudumana. 

This prompted a nationwide outcry with DSC confirming on Saturday that Bester had indeed escaped from custody, as the body found in his cell was someone who had died from blunt force trauma to the head. 

According to the department, the officials who were on duty that morning had been suspended and face disciplinary action. 

On the run 

Bester is now again on the run, allegedly with Magudumana and her two children. 

The Sunday Times reported how Bester had been living it up in a R12m luxury home in Hyde Park in Johannesburg’s plush northern suburbs since he supposedly died in the prison fire.

In the early hours of last week Monday, Bester pulled off another audacious disappearing trick from their rented mansion on 2nd Road.

So sudden was their departure that Bester left a R1.5m watch on his bedside table.  

Staff at the 4Tune Property Smiths estate agency, who did not want to be identified, told the Sunday Times that Bester and Magudumana flaunted their wealth and spent millions on rent for more than one property.

Bester, or “Nkwana”, signed lease agreements and had video calls with the property managers from prison, with Magudumana explaining her “husband was working overseas”. After Bester escaped, Magudumana announced her husband had returned from his overseas stint.


PODCAST | Thabo Bester is a 21st century headache for correctional services