Notorious prison escapee dies in South Africa
JOHANNESBURG - Agence France-PresseA prisoner who escaped twice from high-security jails in South Africa died while being treated for an illness that guards reportedly at first suspected was part of another escape plot, officials said Wednesday.
Convicted murderer, rapist and armed burglar Ananias Mathe, from Mozambique, was renowned from his many audacious attempts to break out of prison.
He died in hospital in Durban on Tuesday "due to complications with digestive issues", correctional services spokesman Thulani Mdluli Kwazulu told the SABC state broadcaster.
"We have been giving Ananias Mathe (the) medical attention he deserves for the past three months," he said.
In 2006, Mathe achieved notoriety when he became the first person to ever escape from the maximum high-security C-Max Penitentiary in Pretoria.
He was reported to have smeared himself in petroleum jelly, squeezed through a tiny window, broken down a wall and used a steel bed bar for a hook to hold a rope made from bed linen and clothes.
However, it was also suspected that he had inside help, and six prison wardens were dismissed over his escape.
After two weeks on the run, Mathe -- dubbed by police as "the ultimate criminal" -- was tracked down and captured when he was cornered in a house and stabbed a security guard in the eye with a screwdriver.
He was shot three times in the leg in that incident.
Mathe also escaped from Johannesburg Central police station's high-risk detention facility in 2005, as well as making various failed escape attempts that included sawing though bars and chiselling holes in walls.
He died after being taken to hospital from Kokstad high-security prison in KwaZulu-Natal province.
"I think it was a genuine sickness," an unnamed prison official told the Times Live website.
"Not so long ago he was caught trying to escape' and when this happened we thought it was another attempt' especially because it is the festive season."
Mathe, aged about 39, was said to have had extensive military training in Mozambique.
The Democratic Alliance opposition party issued a statement describing him as a "notorious criminal and escape artist".
It said Mathe's record revealed how prisoners can bribe South African wardens to escape, rather than his "ingenuity or Houdini-like abilities".
"It is considered impolite to speak ill of the dead. However, in the case of Mr Mathe, society is now free from a dangerous and malevolent individual," it added.