- Images of a man resembling Thabo Bester have reignited interest in the convicted murderer and rapist.
- Police have opened a new case of murder against Bester for his escape from prison.
- Celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana’s involvement in Bester’s life in the spotlight.
The story of Thabo Bester, also known as the Facebook Rapist, highlights the flaws within the South African criminal system and the level of lawlessness at large. The spotlight on Thabo Bester has grown since images of a man resembling the convicted rapist began making their rounds on social media. The pictures of ‘Bester’ were taken on June 30, 2022, in a Woolworths outlet in Sandton City, Johannesburg, just two months after reports that a fire in Bester’s cell broke out. The Mangaung private prison, where Bester was serving his life sentence, announced in May 2022 that he had died from the fire. However, it appears that he may have faked his death and escaped.
By 2011, Bester was a convicted fraudster who went by multiple aliases, including Thomas Bester, Tom Bester, Thabo Tom Bester, Tom Kelly, Thomas Kelly Bester, Thomas Berter, TK, Thomas Kelly Young, Kelly Young, Thomas Magagula, Thabo Magagula, Kelly Johnstone, Rufus Mahopo and Tom Rufus Reddy.
He ran an email scam to lure young women under the guise that international scouts wanted to work with them for modelling. He targeted women from Durban, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, swindling them of their belongings like electronics and money.
He served two years of a three-year sentence for fraud under the fake name Thabo Magagula and picked up right where he left off after breaking his parole. More of his con activities include hiring a charter plane as Tom Kelly for him and a couple of models using fake proof of payment, scamming models into paying him for auditions, and an embellished Facebook profile that states he lives in Cape Town and California, is an executive producer at SABC 3 and is working on a movie.
Bester’s time in the Mangaung Correctional Centre did not prevent him from carrying out more scams. Probably his most audacious one to date, he ran a glitzy media company while serving his life sentence. He had many fooled as “Tom Motsepe,” the New York-based chairperson of the multimillion Rand company 21st Century Media, a ‘subsidiary’ of world-renowned production company 21st Century Fox.
21st Century Media came crashing down in 2018 after a “Women In Media” conference was exposed for being a scam. The company had shared that international movie stars Taraji P. Henson and Halle Berry would attend as guest speakers. However, the ladies made it known that they had zero involvement with the conference, and after public outcry, the event was cancelled.
The Rapist and Murderer
Care saleswoman Nomfundo Tyhulu, Bester’s then-girlfriend, met him when she sold him a BMW in 2011. He stabbed her with a knife at a bed and breakfast in Cape Town and confessed to the crime.
“I am responsible for her death, but I am not responsible for killing her,” he explained in an interview with the former head of the police investigative psychology section Dr. Gerard Labuschagne. He added that he had not intended to murder her and that their fight had gotten out of hand.
“My intention was straightforward — I liked her. And things got twisted, and we had a fight, the knife got out of hand,” Bester elaborated. “She was stabbed. I was stabbed in the process. I tried to stop it.”
In October 2011, Magistrate Sharon Marks sentenced Bester to 50 years imprisonment following the murders and rapes of two young women who had also fallen victim to his promise of glamorous modelling jobs.
“You have scarred these girls for life, and they will never be the same again,” she said during a hearing where Bester pleaded for leniency.
‘You lured two beautiful and naïve girls to your lair where you carried out these well-planned and premeditated heinous acts.”
The Prison Break
Despite several factors alluding to the possibility that the body found in Bester’s cell was not him, The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) announced his death on May 3, 2022. Well-known celebrity doctor Nandipha Magudumana claimed his body, but authorities later took it back from her for further investigations. Claiming to be Bester’s customary wife, she again requested that the body be returned to her. Interestingly, another woman claiming to be his mother attempted to gain possession of his body. However, her DNA did not match that of the body.
The release of the photos of the man many believe is indeed Bester has opened a can of worms as Magudumana is seen in the images with her daughter. Sunday Times reported that the pair lived together in a million Rand mansion in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. According to GroundUp, Bester, and Magudumana had been managing a property renovation business called Arum Holdings under Bester’s alias “TK Nkwana.” There is also a voice recording of Bester and a client in GroundUp’s possession.
Reports surfaced that Magudumana vacated the Hyde Park house on Tuesday, March 21. Allegedly, there’d been an argument between her and the landlord over unpaid rent leading to her eviction. Neither Magudumana nor Bester’s whereabouts are known, but it is believed that she may have been an accomplice to his prison escape.
The DCS has since admitted that Thabo Bester indeed escaped from prison. The department has also confirmed that they will not renew their contract with G4S, the security company surveilling Mangaung prison, after it expires in June 2026.
The police have since opened a new murder case against Bester as more details surrounding the prison fire emerge.
“A case of murder is under investigation following the outcome of the DNA analysis that confirmed that the body of the deceased, which was found, was not of Thabo Bester,” said national police spokesperson Athlenda Mathe.
Furthermore, the autopsy results reveal that the deceased died of blunt force trauma to the head, meaning they died before the fire.
More investigations on the escape of Thabo Bester are still underway.