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CORRECTIONAL FAILURES OP-ED

ANC leadership’s ‘outrage’ over Thabo Bester escape seems a tad manufactured

ANC leadership’s ‘outrage’ over Thabo Bester escape seems a tad manufactured
Thabo Bester, aka the Facebook Rapist, pictured on a television screen in the Western Cape High Court on 3 May 2012. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Shelley Christians)

It was the ANC government that decided in 2000 to enter into a 25-year contract with security company G4S, which manages the prison from which Bester escaped. The contract was concluded despite the company’s international reputation for corruption, racism, abuse, violence and neglect. 

Earlier this week, it was reported that the “ANC leadership” claimed to be enraged by the failings of the “security cluster ministers” following the escape of Facebook rapist and murderer Thabo Bester from a private prison in Mangaung. ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula even warned (apparently with a straight face) that the ministers might be fired unless they drastically improved their performance.

This attempt at distancing the ANC and the government it leads from the catastrophic management of the Correctional Services system over a period of more than 20 years by the very same ANC government – a classic case of gaslighting – would have been laughable had it not been deployed successfully in the past by the party to escape accountability for its many failures.

While I do not believe Mbalula’s claim that security cluster ministers may face dismissal if they do not improve their performance (performance clearly never having been the main consideration for the appointment or removal of ministers in the ANC government), the systemic corruption and maladministration within the Department of Correctional Services – that made Bester’s escape possible and led to the attempted cover-up of the incident by the authorities – will not be fixed merely by firing the relevant ministers.

Why did the ANC government enter into a contract with a private company to build and run prisons, when it officially does not support the privatisation of public services?

One would have to fire the entire government to even begin to address the problem – something only voters can do.

Let me explain.

It was the ANC government that decided in 2000 to enter into a 25-year contract with security company G4S, which manages the prison from which Bester escaped. The prison commenced operations on 1 July 2001 and its contract only expires on 30 June 2026. As investigative journalist Ruth Hopkins again pointed out this week, the contract was concluded despite the company’s international reputation for corruption, racism, abuse, violence and neglect.

Why did the ANC government enter into a contract with a private company to build and run prisons, when it officially does not support the privatisation of public services?

The obvious answer is that such a contract provided opportunities for corruption for the benefit of politically connected individuals. This suspicion is supported by the work done by Hopkins, who has written extensively about G4S. She argued this week – relying on research done for a book – that the arrangement between G4S and the Department of Correctional Services was a money-making scheme that reminded her of the Bosasa scandal, and pointed out that the contract largely benefited a very powerful consortium of shareholders with connections high up in the ANC.

Despite the many reports of corruption and inhumane treatment in the facility (including an internal report that contains evidence of irregularities in the administration of drugs in the prison – which the department fought for five years to keep secret), the ANC government has not cancelled the contract. Nor could I find any evidence that the department had taken active steps to address the problem.

The report confirmed that corruption and nepotism in the recruitment and promotion of officials within the system was one of the root causes of the rot within the department.

More generally, it is no secret that the Department of Correctional Services is rife with corruption, intimidation and nepotism and that the department has experienced a total breakdown in the disciplinary system.

Back in 2006, the Jali Commission of Inquiry into the Correctional Services system made damning findings about the culture of lawlessness within the department, and listed a number of examples of attempts by officials to derail the work of the commission and to cover up wrongdoing – including by intimidating and threatening anyone willing to cooperate with the commission.

In this regard the report concludes:

“Throughout the Commission’s hearings, some senior officials made a concerted effort to discredit the Commission and its investigators. Investigators were threatened with death.

“Intimidation and fear is prevalent in the Department of Correctional Services, including Head Office. As a result, even the people holding management positions are not completely committed to the enforcement of the Departmental regulations because they fear reprisal from other members. This is the case even if they are not corrupt because fear drives them to avoid enforcing the rules and regulations.”

The report confirmed that corruption and nepotism in the recruitment and promotion of officials within the system was one of the root causes of the rot within the department, which resulted in a situation where “many officials occupy responsible senior positions without having the necessary competence and experience for such positions”.

No wonder, then, that the commission also found that there “appeared to be a poor work ethic prevailing in most of the Management Areas investigated”, and that there was “a general breakdown of organisational standards and norms” within the department.

The commission also concluded that there was “a general culture of violating prisoners’ constitutional rights, with prisoners being deprived of their full visitation rights, being served lunch and supper together at midday and thereafter being locked in their cells often merely because members want to leave work early to attend to their own private affairs”.

Thabo Bester saga: Prison department denies it has autopsy report — here it is

(We also know that at the G4S private prison, the abuse extended to the unlawful drugging of unruly inmates – at least those without money to bribe their way out – to pacify them.)

Further shocking findings

In various interim reports, the commission made shocking findings about the prevalence of illegal drug dealing, medical aid fraud, favouritism in appointments, extortion, unlawful financial transactions with prisoners, fraudulent matric certificates, unlawful visits, theft, assault of prisoners, irregular appointments, irregular transfers and parole transgressions within the department. The various reports also contain a long list of recommendations on how to fix things.

In 2016, 10 years after the final Jali Commission report was published, Prof Lukas Muntingh concluded in an article in the SA Crime Quarterly that while there had been some improvement, the Department of Correctional Services “remains beset by the same problems as those the commission was established to address: overcrowding, corruption, impunity, rights violations and services that do not reach sufficient numbers of prisoners and leave much to be desired with regard to impact”.

Given this overall picture, it is hardly surprising that the Department of Correctional Services only conceded that Thabo Bester had escaped from prison after the evidence uncovered by GroundUp – in a series of astonishing exposés – became so overwhelming that the department could no longer hold up the charade that Bester had died in prison.

In a generous reading, DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo could have been excused for falsely “confirming” on 3 May 2022 that Thabo Bester had died in a fire at the Mangaung prison.

But this position became untenable after 31 May 2022 when – as GroundUp reported earlier this monthpapers filed in the Pretoria High Court revealed that a woman claiming to be Bester’s mother tried to claim the body, but she was refused after her DNA did not match that of the body, and that the cause of death of the body found in Bester’s cell was blunt force injury to the head. The post-mortem report also revealed that the height of the body was 1.45m. In a police mugshot, Bester stands taller, at over 1.7m.

Despite this, Nxumalo continued to claim – most recently on 18 March this year – that Bester had died on 3 May 2022. He also said the department did not have the autopsy report on the body found in the prison cell of convicted rapist and murderer Thabo Bester.

Contempt for whistle-blowers and journalists

In a statement issued by the department on 17 March this year, the department also demonstrated contempt for the brave whistle-blowers and journalists who exposed the scandal by complaining about “so-called leaks from unidentified sources” and suggested that “information supplied by these unauthorised sources” was putting undue pressure on the department to confirm or deny these reports.

On 26 March, the National Commissioner of the South African Police Services, General Fannie Masemola, announced that he had ordered the prioritisation of investigations into Bester’s prison escape, but also complained about “the leaking of sensitive and confidential information to media houses” and warned that this “is being looked into by authorities”.

Accountability

What has been entirely absent from the responses by various government spokespeople and the relevant government ministers, is any explanation of:

  • Why the matter has not been properly investigated up to now;
  • Why the department seemed to have covered up the matter and continued to mislead the public in the face of mounting evidence that its story was untrue;
  • Whether the minister, deputy minister or commissioner had approved the cover-up, or knew about it, and if they did, whether they will be held accountable;
  • Whether the head of the Mangaung prison and other responsible individuals will be held accountable for what happened, and why officials it says were dismissed after the incident were not criminally investigated and charged;
  • Why the department and the police are going after GroundUp and whistle-blowers instead of going after the corrupt officials who made the escape possible, and the senior officials or politicians who were in cahoots with them or may have turned a blind eye;
  • Why the contract with G4S has not been cancelled, and whether this has anything to do with the fact that a powerful consortium of shareholders with connections high up in the ANC allegedly benefit from it; and
  • What steps the Department of Correctional Services and the relevant ministers have taken over the years to root out the problems identified in the Jali Report; why these attempts have not been successful, and what would be done differently in future.

It is good and well that the police are now investigating a case of murder and wrongful escape against Thabo Bester. Hopefully, he will be caught quickly and sent back to prison before he hurts anyone. But even if this happens, those in government who have political and administrative responsibility for the department, and the ANC government as a whole, should not be allowed to avoid accountability for the systemic failures that made the escape possible in the first place.

If the “ANC leadership” was really enraged by the scandal, as Mbalula claims, it could show this by demanding protection for the whistle-blowers who risked their lives to expose this scam, and by holding its deployees in government – whose actions or failure to act contributed to the mess – to account by expelling them from the party, if necessary.

But, as we all know, this will not happen. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kerry van Schalkwyk says:

    Sounds like utopia where any ANC government officials would be held accountable for their criminal activities & their rape & pillaging of SOE’s & private collaborations. The only reason this private company was allowed to operate was because they were bribing ANC officials. Just another banana republic on the brink of a failed state with total collapse of the power grid, unbridled looting & anarchy. What a wonderful world, thank you ANC & absolutely no accountability. The comrades stick together, no matter what.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Nothing should surprise you
    If this is a joint venture, who are the SA shareholders ?

  • Carl Dahms says:

    Question? referring to an article in the Sunday Times, their are two Thabo Bester’s with the same Identity number. Who is the real Thabo Bester?

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    Is there a single ANC molecule that does not stink of corruption? (The question is rhetorical as we all know the answer)

    • John Counihan says:

      Yes we do know the answer, Carsten, yes we do ……… Not one molecule. Not one atom. a disgraceful organisation, through and through.

  • Craig Cauvin says:

    Stop complaining – South Africa got EXACTLY what they voted for (and keep voting for).

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      This comment is nonsensical. The “complainers” are very unlikely to be those who persist in voting this party into power, and it is the persistent highlighting of problems that will hopefully assist in swaying the others over time. Against this backdrop it is CRUCIAL to “complain” (more accurately framed as “raise awareness”) as much as possible.

      • Grimalkin Joyce says:

        Absolutely agree. Those of us who voted for change in 1994 have been bitterly disappointed by the shambles that started as soon as the ANC took power. I have never voted for the ANC and even if I had, I believe I still have the right to complain. Our biggest problem here is that the ‘governing’ party has kept young people away from a proper education, so they are unable to make balanced decisions. Hence we are still in thrall to the ANC. They have betrayed South Africa, but especially those children who missed out on learning to read and write. Those children are no longer a threat to a change of government.

        • D'Esprit Dan says:

          I saw a presentation by one of SA’s leading economists a couple of weeks ago, where he outlined in detail how our macro-economic situation today is almost identical to what it was in 1992/3, during the last days of apartheid: the country was on the rack then as well and was unsustainable. The Nats didn’t change out of a sense of moral obligation, it was because they had exhausted the country to the point of collapse. The economist went on to make the point that there is zero comparison between the leaders in Cabinet in 1994 and those of today, saying simply that the current lot seem unable and/or unwilling to make any kind of decision that has the interests of the country at heart. It’s almost as if with every election and cabinet reshuffle, the quality has deteriorated a bit more and here we are with a functionally illiterate leadership.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    But Mbalula says the ANC is not corrupt! Eish!
    Now they have to spend all their working hours again, to work out another scam to save their own skins.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Wow! Excellent analysis and I don’t suppose anybody should be surprised that the ANC’s sticky little fingers are to be found in a dysfunctional, corrupt deal. Is there literally anybody in that party who is an honest servant of the people?

  • Yunus Scheepers says:

    Sounds familiar #eskom

  • Mpumi Bikitsha says:

    So, even if State Capture criminals were to be in orange overalls they would simply enjoy 5 star hotel status by the look of things. No regard for taxpayers’ money whatsoever. Why do government departments have to outsource the services they are supposed to be providing themselves at a huge salary cost? Wow!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    The ANC is a criminal organisation, finish and klaar!

  • Allauddin Thobani Thobani says:

    Who are the powerful consortium of shareholders with connections high up in the ANC of G4S??

  • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

    No wonder that the odious Arthur Fraser was a perfect shoe-in for the job of national commissioner.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    We, the people, are outraged with the ANC and want the soonest opportunity to demonstrate that, even if it means bringing the election forward to this year. This matter reeks of systemic abuse of power. At a time when we ought to see evidence of contrition, we see rampant authoritarianism. That a senior constitutional lawyer needs to point out the culpability of the ANC for systemic failure in the face of ANC outrage and denials is beyond belief. Thank you, Pierre. You are a comrade worth having.

  • Ian McClure says:

    Great journalism .
    Get these facts to the ( voting ) people !!!

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      ‘Facts’ do not matter to them ! Remember … in America (the home of democracy?) … a wise Trump spokesperson referred to “alternative facts” !! Not sure how long ‘independent’ journalism will still be around here … given the ANC predilection for things ‘Russian’ … as in Putin (or even Xi), who just Novichoks or imprisons people in Gulags . I think the ANC thought when comrade Surve took over Allied Publishing, they would control the ‘narrative’ much as Putin does !

  • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

    Purely based on the marked difference in height, they would have known within 5 minutes that the deceased is not Thabo Bester. Yet it took a year to come to a conclusion. This wanton display of incompetence presents an opportunity for an instant clean-up in the prisons department and the police. You actually want the implicated parties removed from society for a while. Maybe a lekker Gulag in the Kalahari is the answer for this folk, including the implicated political figures to live out their Soviet dream. It takes about 4 years to train somebody to become a stone mason, provided they have an adequate IQ.

  • Thomas Risi says:

    Mbulua! Did you not show the same outrage with the potholes in Mangaung. Just to realize you cant do much, rather protect you own and stuff the rest of us.

  • owen steyn says:

    we need to rid this country from the cANCer

  • Anne Swart says:

    Whistleblowers a the true struggle heroes. The ANC top echelons display sickening, gluttonous need for bling, and behave like celebrities; it is repulsive. The result of cadre deployment. They ignore that politicians are voted in to serve the constituents. Instead, the poorest in our society become increasingly desperate. The next generation of leaders and captains of industry, who have the education and are able to, emigrate. A direct result there being no political will to clean up governance and come up with a working plan for economic improvement. For all our people.

    We are subjected to daily battering of news of wilfully corrupt politicians, a need to have a place at the trough so that it is accepted as their rite of passage. We are too numb to revolt, too tired of it to even shake our heads.

    Viva the whistleblowers. Viva for having the courage and energy to act. Viva!

  • Roger Etkind says:

    This article, and the corrupt scheme it describes, illustrates very well the problem of privatisation. It has become de rigueur to mock the capacity of the public sector to do anything. There are audible sights of relief when the prospects of privatised energy generation, at the expense of Eskom, look up. But the fundamental problem is not the public sector. It is the nexus of the public and private sectors that has grown as the state has withdrawn from directly providing services itself and started issuing contracts instead. It is precisely privatisation, in fact, that is the generator of corruption. Every contract is an opportunity. The logical conclusion of this is that to reduce corruption, the best strategy would be to rebuild the public sector, not destroy it. Restore the roads departments in municipalities to fill the potholes – don’t contract it out to companies who don’t do the job but get paid regardless.

    • Janneke Weidema says:

      Very well reasoned. However, G4S has been well know foe corruption and lack of respect for prisoner’s rights. Thabo and Cyril must have known too and the corruption in G4S does not exuse the government’s allowing themselves to be corrupted.

    • Steve Stevens says:

      Wholeheartedly agree. If you look at the privatised rail network in the UK for example it’s a complete shambles of supposed competition between operators. The reality is that each company has a captive market (ie. monopoly) and most of them have little experience of rail – Richard Branson’s Virgin rail being a prime example. And not to be forgotten, the privatised water companies spewing effluent into rivers at a rate our municipalities would be proud of.

      On a local note…
      Everyone has a horror story to tell about the poor service they’ve had at FNB or Nedbank etc. and the incompetent call centre agents they’ve finally reached after twenty minutes on hold. Not much different to the public sector really. And isn’t it odd for example that Vodacom’s pricing is very much on a par with MTN’s. Could this anticompetitive behaviour be classed as a form of corruption or market ‘capture’?

      It’s ironic that neoliberal ‘market knows best’, ‘small state low tax’, ideologues are the first to complain that potholes are hindering their supply chains or that state schools are turning out unemployable kids.

      All being equal (ie. assuming we one day have a corruption, cadre-free state), we should be considering a mixed economy – a Norwegian style social democracy.

  • J C says:

    This useless government are always happy to be “outraged” about something other than their thieving, lying, rotten, shameless cadres stealing from us and selling this country to the Guptas and Putin!

  • Paul Roberts says:

    I notice many of the cash in transit vans are G4S – not sure of any connection?

  • Gregory Scott says:

    The only way to end this corruption and our gangster state is to vote these criminals out of government to ensure that their hands are no longer on the levers of power and to hunt them down with commitment and passion for bringing every one of them to justice after dispossessing them of their ill-gotten financial gains.
    Perhaps a bounty or reward program should be on the table for the whistleblowers and those that effectively lead to these criminals being successfully brought to justice.

  • Paul Caiger says:

    It states “Hopefully, he will be caught quickly and sent back to prison before he hurts anyone” , unless of course he decides to target the ANC corrupt officials then please let him stay out there. Let them feel the pain they have inflicted on millions.

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