Thabo Bester has been taken to a high security facility in Pretoria and will be kept under 24-hour surveillance, the justice ministry says. File picture
Thabo Bester has been taken to a high security facility in Pretoria and will be kept under 24-hour surveillance, the justice ministry says. File picture AFP

A fugitive rapist and murderer who left a burnt corpse in his cell during a daring jailbreak has returned to prison in South Africa after fleeing to Tanzania, officials said Thursday.

The case has embarrassed authorities and sparked fresh outrage over the incompetence of South Africa's police and criminal justice system.

Dubbed the "Facebook rapist", Thabo Bester -- who was sentenced to life in prison for rape, robbery and murder in 2012 -- lured victims on the social media platform before raping and robbing them. He killed at least one victim.

He escaped from a privately-run prison in Bloemfontein almost a year ago -- but police said they only found out last month.

In May 2022, the charred body of a man was found in Bester's cell, leading prison authorities to believe at first that he had set himself on fire.

DNA evidence later revealed the body belonged to someone else, and police launched a murder investigation late last month.

Bester was arrested last Friday by Tanzanian police along with a woman with whom he is reportedly romantically involved, and a Mozambican accomplice.

They were caught in the town of Arusha, while they were said to be making their way to the Kenyan border.

Bester and the woman, a celebrity doctor and social media influencer, were flown back by specially chartered plane which landed in an airport north of Johannesburg in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Bester was taken to a high security facility in Pretoria, Lamola said.

He will be kept under 24-hour surveillance and guarded by "highly trained" officers, according to the justice ministry.

Bester's alleged lover on Thursday appeared at the magistrates' court in Bloemfontein, almost 400 kilometres (250 miles) southwest of Johannesburg with a hoodie over her head and a mask covering her face.

She faces charges of murder, violation of bodies, fraud, and aiding and abetting the escape of a prisoner, according to the police.

The case has been remanded to April 17 for possible bail application, according to the magistrate.

Four others have recently been arrested in connection with the escape plot, including the celebrity doctor's father.

He allegedly aided Bester's prison break and was earlier this week charged with murder in connection with the man found dead in Bester's cell. He will also appear in court alongside his daughter next week.

Bester's case resurfaced in October last year when local investigative news organisation GroundUp reported on the mystery surrounding his death.

South African authorities, following mounting pressure from the public after details of his escape were uncovered, began efforts to apprehend him in late March.

The correctional services ministry announced last month that it would not renew its contract with G4S, the British multinational private security company which ran the private prison Bester escaped from.

A parliamentary committee on justice and correction services on Thursday examined various authorities on the matter.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who was present in the committee meeting, offered an apology to Bester's victims and said he was sorry "this dangerous criminal was let loose".

He said the justice department took "full responsibility for this".

Former judge Edwin Cameron, who inspects the correctional services facilities, told the committee he "conceded that everyone should have been... quicker" in making the matter public, saying the announcement was "lamentably late".

According to local media, Bester ran a glamorous media company while inside prison.

He "made enormous amounts of money while inside" the jail "that certainly was signalled to us by the two G4S officials," Cameron said.

The London-headquartered security firm appeared before the committee on Wednesday.