South Africa’s ‘Houdini’ behind bars again

A recent police handout picture shows An
Ananias Mathe, the South African fugitive dubbed "Houdini" whose escape from a top security prison launched a massive nationwide manhunt. AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

Police arrested one of South Africa’s most sought-after fugitives on Monday, promising that the man dubbed the country’s Houdini would be jailed under heavy security when he recovers from gunshot wounds in hospital.

Ananias Mathe, a Mozambican national, was shot several times in the legs and buttocks by private security guards who had found him via a tracking device as he was driving a stolen car in a Johannesburg township, police said.

A police spokeswoman said Mathe stabbed a private security guard in the eye with a screwdriver in a scuffle, shortly before police arrived to arrest him.

Massive manhunt
The capture ended a two-week manhunt after Mathe broke out of the high security C-Max prison in Pretoria, slathering his body in petroleum jelly and sliding out of a window.

Mathe was dubbed “The Houdini of C-Max” by South Africa’s media for the daring and ingenious escape from one of the country’s most heavily guarded prisons.

Authorities made several bungled attempts in their search. Police shot a church minister in North West province after they mistook him for Mathe and another man was arrested but later released in a further case of mistaken identity.

Mathe was awaiting trial on almost 100 criminal counts including rape and attempted murder and is now facing at least three new charges of escape from lawful custody, aggravated robbery and attempted murder, police said.

“He is a very violent and cruel man,” national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer said.

“There has been a commitment ... that everything possible that can be, will be done to prevent an escape.”

South African prisons have frequently been in the news over other jailbreaks and the government has ordered an investigation into Mathe’s escape.