G4S accused of removing itself from accountability over Bester's escape

Nomazima Nkosi Senior reporter
Mangaung Correctional Centre on March 30, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Mangaung Correctional Centre on March 30, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Image: Mlungisi Louw

The Mangaung Correctional Centre does not have the authority or skills to conduct criminal or forensic investigations, G4S regional commercial director for Africa Cobus Groenewoud told parliament on Wednesday.

Groenewoud was speaking in parliament after the security company was subpoenaed to appear before the justice and correctional services portfolio committee to account on Facebook rapist and murderer Thabo Bester's escape from the Mangaung prison on May 3 2022.

Following Bester's escape, Groenewoud said three investigations were launched: one by the prison, one by the SA Police Service and another by the Department of Justice and correctional services.

He said the prison's investigation, which was initiated by G4S, was merely a compliance investigation.

“We had to analyse the actions of staff leading up to events of May 3 and the days that followed. We had to test our actions against the Correctional Services Act.

“We had to check conduct against stringent procedures we have. We conducted interviews with staff members and looked at the registers, documents and looked at the CCTV footage ... all of which was shared with SAPS,” Groenewoud said.

Groenewoud said there were three notable findings following their investigation, which was that video cameras for the administrative building and broadway functions on the same circuit were not recording footage during the period 7.38pm on May 2 to 4.11am on May 3.

On May 4, Groenewald said the external security system service provider reported that the system recorded a power interruption to the circuit’s recording device at the time under review.

“There were no other power interruptions at MCC (Mangaung Correctional Centre) recorded during this time. Two central control room officials failed to follow clearly established MCC policies and procedures and did not monitor and report events in a timely manner.

“The on-site night duty supervisor on 2/3 May failed to follow clear and well-established MCC policies and procedures failing to complete inspection rounds. Failing to attend to incidents on time. Distant CCTV footage shows two unidentified figures running towards administrative building where CCTV cameras were temporarily not recording,” he said.

Groenewoud said G4S had at all times co-operated with all investigations, adding that it was their employees who informed SAPS of their suspicions of a “strange smell” on the personal items belonging to Bester.

“On May 4 staff noticed a petrol smell. We immediately advised SAPS of this issue. On May 5 SAPS concurred traces of petrol and confirmed the presence of an accelerant,” Groenewald said.

ANC MP Anthea Ramolobeng accused G4S and prison management of removing themselves from accountability.

“The report we're getting is hogwash and G4S is exonerating themselves. There are a number of security lapses that led to the escape. There seems to be no management oversight.

“Since the escape, what has management done and what’s been the oversight. He keeps saying we provided authorities with information. There’s no accountability. They’re not saying this is what we’ve done,” she said.

Ramolobeng also questioned why Bester had been moved to cell 35, which is deemed a “blind spot” from CCTV cameras.

“Cell 35 is normally not used because it’s in the blind spot. Who authorised him to be moved to the blind spot and why was the person in the cell removed? There was an orchestration plan for him to escape,” she said.

Groenewoud responded by saying the inmate who previously occupied Cell 35 had applied to move to a normal cell. “That inmate was not moved to accommodate inmate Bester. It happened to become available on the day,” he said.

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