There was no gunfire, no tyres screeching, no blaring of sirens and no panicked shoppers scattering across the aisles. In fact, this heist at Africa’s largest shopping mall, the Mall of Africa in Midrand, was so quiet nobody knew it was happening and the details of the stolen cash emerged only about seven months after it took place.
It was an otherwise ordinary morning in July last year when Bathobile Mlangeni (29), a security guard at one of the biggest cash-in-transit companies in SA, allegedly strolled out of the mall’s basement level cash depot wheeling a shopping trolley filled with refuse bags stuffed with R4 million in cash. She didn’t report for work again and so far, efforts by the police, and her employer SBV Secure Solutions, to trace her have been fruitless.
In fact, she seems to have vanished into thin air. Bathobile was on duty for SBV – a company who processes, moves and manages cash and high-value assets – on the day of the robbery. She allegedly used a pair of scissors to cut open two bulk cash bags, and transferred the R4m into refuse bags, which she put in a trolley and wheeled out of the depot, alone and unnoticed.
Residents of Mtwesi Street in the modest Soweto neighbourhood she’s believed to have lived react in one of two ways when her name is mentioned: fear or admiration. When we visit people are outside, sweeping their stoeps, painting their walls and generally getting on with their lives. They don’t seem to be too rattled that one of their neighbours is accused of such a crime.
In fact, many of them say they don’t know anything about her. But a few acknowledge that they know exactly who she is – and they’re nervous at the mere mention of her name. At a modest face-brick house, an elderly woman believed to be Bathobile’s aunt says she won’t talk to any media. All she would tell us is “this has not been Bathobile’s home for a long time. She does not live here”, before going inside and shutting the door.
There was always “something dodgy” about the missing security guard, says Amanda Sibakhulu*, a neighbour who spoke to DRUM on condition of anonymity.
“She has been scarce for a while, since about the middle of last year. It was her cousin’s wedding in December, but she did not attend that,” Amanda tells us. She describes Bathobile as being a loner. “She has no children, and she never really had friends, or boyfriends. She just smokes her cigarettes and keeps to herself. She is always wearing pants and takkies and caps, like a tomboy, but her makeup was always done,” she says.
She was shocked, but not surprised to hear the allegation against the young woman. “She has always been dodgy. I cannot pinpoint it, but there is something about her. And there is no way her family does not know where she is. They are close and Bathobile is a favourite.
“I do not think she’s still in the country. I am sure she left her unemployed mother a bit of money but she is definitely not coming back here. She has no reason to return to Soweto. She has no kids or anything that would make her come back. She is somewhere, enjoying that money quietly.”
Another resident spoke in more favourable terms about Bathobile. “It’s not like she killed someone,” the neighbour told TimesLIVE.
“She took some money. The person whose money it was had already deposited it, so the banks and CIT [cash-in-transit] companies will have it insured. Everyone wins”. Neighbour Jabu Zondo says the Mlangeni family had lived in their Soweto home since the 1950s, and that Bathobile had moved out of the house some time before the robbery. A group of young women sitting at a local eatery are friendly when we introduce ourselves. But as soon as we mention Bathobile’s name, their smiles disappear. “Yhu hayi, sisi (Oh no, sisi), we do not want to get involved. We do not know anything. I do not even want to point you to that house, ask up the street. Yhu, I already have so many of my own problems, do not ask me about that,” one of the ‘She is somewhere, enjoying that money quietly’ three women tells us.
Other neighbours say they have not seen her in nearly two years. “We were all really shocked when we heard that she had [allegedly] stolen that money,” one man says. “It seemed so out of character. “She was always quiet and did not seem like someone who likes things. In fact, I did not even know she worked at SBV.”
Thami Mazibuko describes Bathobile as a quiet young woman who minded her own business. “You would hardly ever see her walking in the streets, and when you did see her, she was very quiet. She was a normal kasi girl. There was nothing that stood out about her.
“When we heard about this R4 million thing, we were shocked.”
The missing R4 million has echoes of another brazen Joburg heist that also remains unsolved – the theft of R3m from the FNB Stadium vault in 2013, after a Justin Bieber concert.
Like the Mall of Africa robbery, not a single shot was fired, no one was hurt, and it was not until the following day that it even was noticed that millions of rands – cash from the concession stands at the stadium – had been looted from the vault.
Dozens of suspects were interviewed, tips were chased and even a psychic offered information, but the money has not been recovered and no one has been brought to justice. Gauteng police spokesperson Captain Mavela Masondo urged members of the public who know of Bathobile’s whereabouts to come forward. “She is not a criminal mastermind. She just took a chance,” a source told TimesLIVE.
Police spokesperson Lieutenant Kay Makhubela says police had only obtained an arrest warrant for Bathobile last December “after investigators exhausted all efforts in tracing her”. SBV didn’t want to announce anything because the police had to follow processes. But now, Mark Barrett, SBV group CEO, has appealed for information to help the investigation. “As a key service provider that ensures that cash is available for the citizens of South Africa, and as a responsible corporate citizen, we do not tolerate any crime and take all internal and external incidents in a serious light.”
*Not her real name