DM168

PEOPLE OF THE YEAR 2023

SA Villain of the Year: Thabo Bester and Nandipha Magudumana

SA Villain of the Year: Thabo Bester and Nandipha Magudumana
Nandipha Magudumana and Thabo Bester in court on 8 August 2023. (Photo: Becker Semela)

The couple wins this title because of their heinous crimes – and because of what their sorry tale says about the state and our broader society.

First, a confession. The South African Villain of the Year, as chosen by Daily Maverick readers, was former University of Cape Town Vice-Chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng. But considering the competition, it felt necessary to override the democratic process in this instance – because our ultimate category winners, Thabo Bester and Dr Nandipha Magudumana, have murdered and raped, and swindled millions.

This Bonnie and Clyde duo had the nation in a chokehold for months this year, drawn in by the sensational allegations of their crimes and the sizzling chemistry that seemed to burn between the two of them, even in the dock.

But it’s necessary to remind ourselves that underneath the titillating tabloid spectacle lies an extremely dark story indeed – one that casts various aspects of the South African state in a very dim light.

Bester’s escape from the Mangaung Correctional Centre was only made possible by what looks to have been whole circles of corrupt prison officials at virtually every level of the facility.

That Magudumana was able to claim not one but two bodies from state mortuaries without producing any evidence that she was a family member of the deceased is deeply concerning.

Possibly the most worrying aspect of the whole story, however, is that the Department of Correctional Services showed so little urgency in investigating Bester’s escape, despite having information from fairly early on to suggest that it was not, in fact, Bester who had died in a fire in his cell.

Had it not been for Judge Edwin Cameron playing whistle-blower – in his capacity as head of the prisons inspectorate – and for dedicated GroundUp journalists Daniel Steyn and Marecia Damons doggedly pursuing the story, Bester and Magudumana might still be on the run.

Every time the two have appeared in court this year, there has been a flurry of commentary on social media regarding their appearance, clothes and body language. If you were only judging by the tone of this chatter, you would assume that Bester and Magudumana were accused of only the most trivial crimes.

Lest we forget: Bester was in prison for raping women at knifepoint, and in at least one case, brutally murdering a woman who even by his own account had shown him nothing but kindness and support.

Magudumana is accused of being an active participant in effecting this murderer’s escape from prison, and before this is alleged to have worked with Bester to defraud victims out of millions of rands.

Bester may be a psychopath. What was in it for Magudumana, who was a successful doctor and practice owner in her own right, may never be clear. But as Steyn and Damons noted in their book The Thabo Bester Story: The Facebook Rapist, the Celebrity Doctor and the Escape from Cell 35, the entire saga says something rather depressing about our society.

“There is a cynical point to be made about how easily [Bester] was able to fleece South Africans,” the two journalists wrote.

“Whether in the potholed streets of Bloemfontein or the glitzy hotels of Sandton, this story presents a disconcerting picture of who we are: our vapid celebrity culture; our fetishisation of money and bling at the expense of our own integrity; our aspiration towards opulence and decadence; how we treat women; how we glorify ambition, control and power; and how we often turn a blind eye to the institutional rot in the country that ultimately enabled Bester’s escape.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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