DM168

Letter From The DM168 Editor

The unfolding Thabo Bester story shows journalists can be better than cops at busting miscreants

The unfolding Thabo Bester story shows  journalists can be  better than cops  at busting  miscreants
Left: Thabo Bester is seen on a TV screen in the high court in Cape Town. Photo: Shelley Christians/Gallo Images. Right. Dr Nandipha Magudumana ran a scam business with Bester after he escaped from prison. Photo: Instagram

It's fast and easy to spread rubbish compared to what all of us journalists in this struggling industry are compelled to do by our self-imposed Press Code of Ethics. We have to check every fact, every quote, respect constitutional rights, and if we are wrong, we must publicly correct our mistakes.

Dear DM168 readers,

Today I want to give you some insight into how competing journalism outlets, who all subscribe to the Press Council Code of Ethics, can work for a common good in the age of digital media. How both non-profit, public service media and our colleagues in for-profit media hand over batons of investigative storytelling, not by any behind-the-scenes collusion but by doggedly chasing every bone of a story that another journalist might have discarded, and by sticking to the facts.

While our conscientious tribe of journalists across the spectrum have been hot on the heels of Facebook rapist and murderer Thabo Bester and his glamorous celebrity doctor girlfriend Nandipha Magudumana (more so than police who have not yet arrested the two swindlers), all credit is due to the dogged investigative work of non-profit, donor funded news agency GroundUp.

In November last year, it was GroundUp journalist Marecia Damons who started asking questions about the alleged death of Facebook rapist Thabo Bester in the privately run  Mangaung Prison.

Since then a team of GroundUp journalists reported that Bester operated a business from prison and had video-conferenced into a glamorous Johannesburg event dressed in a suit.

They published photos sent to them of Bester and his partner Magudumana shopping in Woolworths in Sandton City more than a month after he escaped in March 2022. They also obtained an audio file with Bester’s voice on it months after his alleged death by suicide in a fire in the Mangaung Prison and provided compelling evidence that the body found in the cell was not that of Bester and that Bester had escaped from prison, despite denials from Correctional Services and G4S security, the private company running the prison.

GroundUp’s investigations, which are free to read and can be republished by any platform through creative commons agreements, alerted us all and led to the biggest newspaper in the country, Sunday Times senior crime reporter Graeme Hosken revealing how Bester has been living it up in a R12-million luxury home in Hyde Park in Johannesburg’s plush northern suburbs since his jail break.

Two days ago the baton was picked up by Sowetan journalist Noxolo Sibiya who reported on how a wooden casket containing a dead body was driven into the Mangaung Prison, without being checked, hours before the fire broke out in Bester’s cell.

And GroundUp was finally vindicated when DNA evidence released by the Correctional Services Department showed that the incinerated body was not that of Thabo Bester but that of an unknown victim of blunt trauma to the head who was brought into the prison in the casket.

While the audacity of Bester and Magudumana and their hoodwinking of so many with their flashy Sandton lifestyle makes for salacious reading, what GroundUp has uncovered, which was followed up by other media houses, is of grave concern to all of us: the pitfalls of Public Private Partnerships in prison management and possibly in other spheres when not strictly monitored and managed by government.

It was journalists who made it impossible for Correctional Services to continue denying  the fact that a badly managed, private prison allowed a convicted murderer and rapist to walk out of prison aided and abetted by prison officials.

GroundUp’s story has led Minister Of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola to terminate G4S’s contract to manage Mangaung Prison, and he fired Prison Managing Director Johan Theron, who was there since 2015 and under whose watch Bester and another prisoner had escaped and serious breaches of security had occurred. At the time of writing this, police have still not found Bester and Magudumana, but with many more journalists putting the public lens on them, the police are being forced to get their act together.

What GroundUp and other media outlets have managed to do with the Facebook rapist series of stories is something that the multitudes of Toms, Thabos, Vlads, Sheilas, Nicks and Harri Bhais who have a Twitter, Tiktok, Instagram, WhatsApp or Facebook account do not do when they spread disinformation and misinformation, half-truths and blatant lies.

It’s fast and easy to spread rubbish compared to what all of us journalists in this struggling industry are compelled to do by our self-imposed Press Code of Ethics. We have to check every fact, every quote, respect constitutional rights, and if we are wrong, we must publicly correct our mistakes.

Every one of you can hold us accountable by reporting any abuse of your trust or errors we make, directly to us and if you want or need to take it further, report us to the press ombudsman.

This differentiates us from the chasers of clicks and likes on social media and Iqbal Surve’s rapidly crumbling Independent Media empire which spurned membership of the Press Council and instead published and supported unverifiable schlock like erstwhile Pretoria News editor Piet Rampedi’s ludicrous decuplets debacle.

It’s not easy being a journalist in this digital soup dominated by global tech behemoths like Facebook and Google who have basically eaten huge chunks of journalism’s advertising breakfast, lunch and supper.

Previously, newspapers were largely supported by advertising, but we now have to depend much more on our cover prices. To keep doing what we do at DM168, we have to increase our cover price from R25 to R29 from this Saturday.

Journalism’s survival is now largely dependent on you, our readers buying our newspapers, online subscriptions or memberships like the Daily Maverick Insider program.

In this week’s DM168 we share GroundUp’s story on Bester and Magudumana’s shady construction business which they operated from their rented Hyde Park mansion after Bester escaped.

On our front page our dream team of political journalists, Queenin Masuabi, Velani Ludidi, Suné Payne and Rebecca Davis, have interviewed DA members in the run-up to the opposition party’s federal congress over the weekend.

They ask whether the leaders the party chooses will be able to gain more votes in next year’s election as the ANC stumbles from one crisis to another. As we did with both the ANC leadership contest in December last year and the EFF’s 10-year commemoration, we want to give you more insight into the political parties that will be vying for our votes in next year’s election.

Keep supporting our quest to inform you by going out to buy our newspaper or becoming a Daily Maverick Insider. For those of you who regularly buy DM168 or who are already Insiders, thanks from the bottom of all our hearts for the support.

PS: I am taking a break with my family for the Easter holidays and am handing over to my trusted colleague, Sukasha Singh. Please send any comments you have on this letter, stories in the paper or ideas you’d like to share to [email protected]

I will be back in the saddle after the Easter weekend.

Wishing our Christian readers a blessed Easter, our Muslim readers well over the Ramadan fast, our Jewish readers Happy Pesach and those from other religious traditions, agnostics and atheists a peaceful break.

Yours in defence of truth,

Heather

This story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, SPAR and Exclusive Books. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    “ The unfolding Thabo Bester story shows journalists can be better than cops at busting miscreants”

    Surprised? DM and its partners have been doing that for a decade!

  • Kenny McDonald says:

    Spot on. Time to up our subscriptions, I’m in.

    • Hulme Scholes says:

      I agree ! The thousands of pages of the Zondo commissions report into State Capture was all started by journalistic investigations which left the State with no option but to instigate the commission. We are in deep shit in SA, without journalists we would be finished.

  • Takula Tapela says:

    An inspiring reminder of the value of the 4th Estate Heather. Enjoy a deserved break with your family.
    Insider TJ

  • Bonga Sanele Mkhwanazi says:

    Is SA becoming a Movie State? The Thabo Bester saga is so theatrical, it defies reality on so many levels.

  • Elda Thomas says:

    There seems to be no fuss, curiosity nor newsworthiness about the murder of the man they thought was Bester (blunt trauma to the head) Everyone seems fixated on Bester’s escape but a murder has been committed.

  • Vincent L says:

    Well done Ms Robertson. A deserved break. When you get back, how about starting the Daily Prosecutor.

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