After waiting for an hour outside a dimly lit hall in Johannesburg’s grim Leeuwkop Maximum Security Prison where prisoners meet their visitors, a warder finally calls my name. I walk into the hall and am confronted by a mix of emotions as prisoners in orange overalls meet their relatives and friends.
There’s laughter and crying as the prisoners hug and kiss their mothers, wives and sisters and shake hands with their fathers, brothers and friends.
Thabo Bester, dubbed the “Facebook Rapist”, comes in clutching a black diary in his hands. He hesitates for a moment at the entrance and seems nervous, his eyes scanning the length of the hall.
When our eyes meet, he walks over and sits in front of me on a long bench, so close our knees are touching. Bester is good looking, with a neatly trimmed beard, and it’s easy to imagine how he enticed pretty young women on Facebook with promises of photo shoots and modeling contracts – after which he raped and robbed them.
Bester is as tense as a coiled spring as he breaks the ice with a confession. “I didn’t wake up one morning and decide to rape – I didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but here I am . . .’’
He claims he never intended to embark on a life of crime. Bester was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Nomfundo Tyhulu (26) and 25 years for her aggravated armed robbery. In addition he was sentenced to 50 years (changed to 30 years on appeal) behind bars for raping and robbing two models.
“I went from being a normal person to being a high-profile criminal,” he continues. “I’m sorry for all my sins. I’m sorry to Nomfundo’s family for the pain I put them through. If I hadn’t killed her, she would be with her family right now.”
He says there was a time when he was friendly with many celebrities, but now everyone avoids him.
“To be honest, I don’t blame them for not visiting me in prison,” he says. “I had many friends, including business people, politicians and artists, but now nobody wants to know me, nobody wants to be associated with me,” he adds with a pained look on his face. As is often the case with people in his dire circumstances, Bester reveals he has turned to God as he seeks redemption for his sins.
“I made mistakes and take full responsibility for the bad things I’ve done,” he says apologetically.
“People view me in a certain way and to them I’m this vile creature. To be honest, I deserve to be here.” Bester has written a letter in which he pleads for the forgiveness of his high-profile “friends”, some of whom deny knowing him, while others admit to having met him.
Among some of the people Bester mentions as “friends” in his letter are actor and presenter Tumisho Masha and radio DJ and presenter Bonang Matheba.
Tumisho recalls when he met Bester. “It was a weekday during school hours when I met Bester outside the McDonalds in Rivonia, Johanesburg, about 10 years back,” he says.
“He told me he didn’t have money for transport to get to school because he stayed with his granny and they had no money, so I gave him some cash and he left. But after mentioning the incident to friends, they told me he was a con artist.
“The next time I saw him I confronted him about what he was doing and told him the way he was going he’d either end up in jail or dead,” Tumisho continues.
“He seemed remorseful because he apologised and promised he wouldn’t do it again. That was the last time I saw him for a while. “Then, three years ago, I again bumped into him on Rivonia Road and this time he was very frank about his life. He told me he’d been in jail for fraud but that he’d turned his life around. He seemed so shy and kind that I had no reason not to believe him. He was disarming and he seemed to be no danger to anyone.”
But then there was a surprising turn of events. “I was taken aback when Pearl Thusi brought him to our prayer meeting one evening,” Tumisho says.
“She spoke of how she had met him that evening and felt the need to help him. That evening we spoke to him and prayed with him.
“That’s when I decided that as someone who was older, I should try to help him. I invited him to do a mentorship with me. He didn’t seem arrogant at all; instead he looked quite vulnerable and he was soft-spoken and seemed sincere. “But when I heard he’d pulled a knife on Pearl, I was very upset. I wanted to confront him about it,” Tumisho says.
“But I was too late, because a few months later I heard he was in prison. I was shocked at the crimes he was accused of committing, because he really played the victim.
“He’s the textbook definition of a psychopath. He must stay in prison for his entire sentence because he’s a danger to society. He’s a liar and it’s become so bad he believes his own lies. This letter of apology is nothing but a cry for attention.” Bonang Matheba, another celebrity Bester claims to know, had a very different response when we asked her about her association with him.
“This is bizarre because I don’t know him at all,” she said emphatically.
“I don’t even know his real name – I only know him as the ‘Facebook Rapist’ because I read about him and his association with Pearl. I don’t know him from a bar of soap.”
Pearl’s manager, Simphiwe Majola says, “This is old news and totally irrelevant. He is trying to seek attention, which we’re not willing to feed. The information is totally inacacurate and factually incorrect.” Is claiming celebrity friendships just another elaborate con – the way he conned young women? It seems the only person who knows is the infamous “Facebook Rapist”.