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Police testimony gives insight into how decoy body ended up in Thabo Bester cell

Police testimony gives insight into how decoy body ended up in Thabo Bester cell
Protesters outside the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court bail hearing of five people accused of helping Thabo Bester to escape. (Photo: Becker Semela)

Friends of Katlego Bereng picket outside Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court.

Bail hearings for five of the eight accused in the Thabo Bester saga continued for a second day on Friday. Police officer Tieho Jobo Flyman testified how a decoy body was smuggled into the Mangaung prison and how money changed hands before and after the escape.

In the dock were former Mangaung prison employees Senohe Matsoara, Monteyani Masukela, Tieho Makhotsa, Nastassja Jansen, along with Teboho Lipholo, a former employee of CCTV service provider Integritron Security Solutions.

Flyman said that on 27 April 2022, the father of Bester’s partner Nandipha Magudumana, Zolile Sekeleni, hired a car from OR Tambo airport. This same vehicle was used to carry a corpse from National Hospital in Bloemfontein to the prison on 29 April.

Flyman said the corpse had been claimed by Magudumana, who had said the body was the child of an aquaintance’s brother. She claimed she was assisting him to arrange the funeral. Flyman said a fake funeral was held, and when the police later exhumed the coffin, they found three 10kg sacks of maize meal.

He said the corpse was smuggled into the prison inside a TV cabinet. The car it was brought in should have been searched by the staff at the gate, but it was not. The corpse was then left in the TV cabinet, which had been placed in the prison workshop. The next day, Lipholo placed it in a wheelie bin and took it to the prison yard. Lipholo was able to tamper with the system to get the body into Bester’s cell, Flyman said.

Friends of Katlego Bereng, the man police claim was the person used as a decoy body in Bester’s faked death scene in which it was claimed he died in a fire in his cell, picketed outside the court. They said they oppose bail for all the accused.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Thabo Bester saga — Escape decoy body of Katlego Bereng buried in Bloemfontein

Flyman said that Senohe Matsoara, the supervisor on duty on the night of the fire, did nothing to extinguish the fire when he got to the cell at around 3am on the morning of 3 May 2022. Officials from other blocks arrived at the cell, responding to the fire alarm. The fire was extinguished and a corpse was discovered in the cell. It was assumed that the body was Bester’s and that he had committed suicide.

CCTV technician Teboho Lipholo, whose charges include accepting a bribe and aiding an escape, provided key information to the police. Flyman said Lipholo met with Matsoara in the early hours of 2 May, which is when the decoy body was placed in Bester’s cell.

Flyman also confirmed that Bester escaped dressed in a prison warden uniform.

Flyman testified that Natassja Jansen and Tieho Makhotsa were working in the Central Control Room, from which CCTV cameras are monitored. Both were on duty the night of the fire. Flyman said that Lipholo disconnected the cameras for Bester’s cell block. Jansen and Makhotsa allegedly opened the doors for Lipholo to do so.

According to Flyman, Matsoara had promised Lipholo a bribe of R2.5-million. But Matsoara’s bank statements reveal that only R40,000 was actually paid. R30,000 was paid to Lipholo’s wife’s bank account before the escape, and R10,000 to his own bank account after the escape.

Matsoara had received the money in his bank account from someone called TK (“TK Nkwana” was the alias used by Thabo Bester before and after the escape). Payments to Matsoara’s bank account started in April 2022 and continued after the escape. A total of R150,000 was paid by TK into Matsoara’s account, Flyman said. After the escape, Makhotsa also received R14,000 in two tranches — one of R10,000 and the other R4,000.

Matsoara was paid to facilitate the escape, Lipholo was paid to disconnect the cameras, and Makhotsa was paid to open the doors, Flyman said.

Flyman did not testify that Jansen was paid.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Damning timeline — Government knew of Thabo Bester escape as early as October 2022 but failed to act

A man was found at a taxi rank in Bloemfontein after having collapsed, Flyman said, and paramedics took him to the hospital in an ambulance. According to the doctors, the man died during resuscitation. His blood sugar levels were low. Police have since claimed that the man was Katlego Bereng.

The police received formal DNA results on 21 April 2023 tracing Bereng to his family. At this point of the testimony, Flyman became emotional and requested a five-minute break.

After the break, Flyman testified that Matsoara and Bereng knew each other and they sometimes drank together at a local nightclub.

Flyman said that the accused should stay in custody. He said there was a risk that the local community, which has expressed anger about Bereng’s death, would take the law into their own hands and there would be community unrest. He also said witnesses who had contributed to the police investigations could be in danger if the accused are released.

Flyman is the police officer who wrote an affidavit last year in response to a court application brought by Nandipha Magudumana to obtain the body that had been in the cell.

The hearing will continue on Tuesday, 16 May. DM

First published by GroundUp.

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