Thabo Bester's escape shows private jails prioritise profits over public safety, says Popcru

Thabo Bester after his arrest on Friday night in Arusha, Tanzania.
Thabo Bester after his arrest on Friday night in Arusha, Tanzania.
Image: Twitter

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) president Zizamele Cebekhulu-Makhaza has criticised private jails, saying government must sever ties with them because they prioritise profits over public safety and rehabilitation.

His comments come after “Facebook rapist” and murderer Thabo Bester's escape from a maximum-security prison operated by private company G4S in MangaungBloemfontein, in May 2022. 

Bester and his lover Dr Nandipha Magudumana were arrested on Friday in Tanzania with a Mozambican national who was allegedly assisting them.

Police have arrested two suspects in connection with Bester's escape. One is a former employee of G4S.

“The escape of infamous Facebook serial rapist Thabo Bester from a supposedly maximum-security prison operated by private company G4S has again highlighted the risks of using private prisons in South Africa,” said Cebekhulu-Makhaza.

The incident serves as “irrefutable evidence” that privately-run prisons do not work and it is “time for the state to fulfil its constitutional responsibility to see to prisoners' care, rehabilitation and security rather than attempting to outsource its duties”.

He said using “foreign companies” to run prisons poses a security risk and means prisoners are not rehabilitated according to South African cultural norms and values. 

“The purpose of incarceration is not simply to punish offenders but also to help them turn their lives around and reintegrate them into society as law-abiding citizens. This is why rehabilitation programmes which are aligned with our own values and culture are essential for assisting prisoners to re-enter communities. 

“But overseas companies do not understand our unique challenges and cultural nuances, which means they cannot successfully rehabilitate convicts back into society, leading to a higher rate of reoffending and crime.”

Cebekhulu-Makhaza said Bester's escape raises questions that must be addressed, adding the correctional services department must thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the escape.

“There is also the issue of an unidentified body found in Bester's cell. The department needs to find out who this person was, how they ended up in the cell with Bester and what role they may have played in his escape. These are critical questions which could shed light on who assisted Bester in escaping and whether there is any potential corruption or fraud present in the private prison system.”

He said the department must revoke its contract with private foreign-owned companies and take over the facilities because it is the only way to ensure prisoners are properly cared for and given access to programmes that will aid their rehabilitation.

“The primary focus of correctional facilities must be rehabilitation and public safety, not profits. The government needs to invest in improving rehabilitation programmes that align with our unique African values and prioritise human rights.”


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