From the outside the house is unassuming – modest and neat with a concrete yard. Inside the home is bright, comfortable and tastefully decorated. Vangile Dlamini has lived here since 1973 and her grandchildren have helped her renovate it along the years, putting up a new boundary wall and installing new windows to thank her for helping to raise them.
For over two months the house in Zola 3, Soweto, was also the home of a young woman Vangile (82) regarded as one of her own grandkids. Like she would do with one of her own flesh and blood, she welcomed Bathobile Mlangeni in when she needed help and provided her with a roof over her head. Never in her wildest dreams did she foresee what would happen: that the police would arrive on her doorstep one day and tell her that her “granddaughter” was under arrest for one of the most brazen crimes in recent South African history.
In July 2019 a guard working for SBV, a security company that processes, moves and manages cash and high-value assets, was caught on camera calming leaving Midrand’s Mall of Africa allegedly with R4 million in cash. The alleged thief had cut open two bulk cash bags and transferred the money into plastic bags, then placed the bags in a supermarket trolley and pushed the trolley out of the shopping centre.
For over two-and-a-half years the culprit remained at large. But recently cops, acting on a tip-off from the community arrested, Bathobile (31) in Soweto and the young woman is now in custody pending her trial after abandoning her bail hearing. All Vangile can do now is pray and ask God to watch over Bathobile, she says.
Yet she, the rest of her family and the community are stunned: the young woman they know was unemployed and struggling, barely able to afford airtime or underwear.
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Vangile was relieved when Bathobile arrived at her home in November 2021 in need of a place to stay. “Somebody had broken into my house one day while I was praying,” she tells YOU. “They didn’t physically hurt me, but I was traumatised. Two days after the incident I fainted at home and my grandchildren and I came to the agreement that I needed somebody to live with me full-time. That was when Bathobile arrived.”
The home is the third one Bathobile, who is originally from Dlamini, Soweto, lived in since the alleged Mall of Africa crime.
First a friend, a mother of two, housed Bathobile a month after the theft. She had sought refuge, the friend tells us, saying she was on the run from her abusive boyfriend. “After a month she started dating a guy from around here and in December 2019 they moved into a place in Alberton together. I didn’t see much of her after that.”
Two years later, Bathobile arrived at Vangile’s home. Not much is known about Bathobile’s biological family but Vangile’s family have hinted at “some conflict” and her mother told SowetanLIVE she hadn’t seen her daughter since July 2019. It also emerged that, after the R4-million theft, police had been watching the family of Bathobile – who had worked as a guard as SBV – to see if their lifestyle changed but nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Bathobile isn’t Vangile’s biological grandchild but she has known her since childhood and considers her family. “Her grandmother was a traditional healer,” she says. “Over the years we would see each other often. We knew each other’s children and grandchildren, so I was happy to have Bathobile stay with me.
“She was a jolly little girl and there was nobody around here who didn’t like her. She looked after me very well and often asked me if I’d eaten and did chores around the house. “On the day she was arrested she went to the shops to buy a few items and the police came back with her in the back of their van, with the bags still full of groceries. There had been nothing to suggest that something was wrong and that the police were looking for her.”
Vangile and the rest of the family were shocked. Bathobile seemed like many other young people – unemployed and a little stressed out about it. “She would smoke when she was stressed and she was worried about not having a job,” a member of Vangile’s family, who asked not to be named, says.
“She would apply for jobs and not get called back for interviews. She would often tell Vangile that if she could get a job, she would be happy.” Bathobile didn’t act like someone who allegedly had a fortune, the family member adds. She slept on the floor of Vangile’s bedroom and sometimes asked for money to buy airtime and other small items. She didn’t even have panties to sleep in, Vangile says, and the few clothes she did have were “shabby and fitted into a very small bag”.
“We never saw any money around here,” Vangile says. “She wasn’t an extravagant person. A person who has money doesn’t live like Bathobile did. If she had money, you would have seen it by the car parked in the yard.”
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The Zola community are also shocked by her arrest and say if they hadn’t witnessed the police arrive and apprehend her, they wouldn’t believe it. “We saw her often walking around Zola, a quiet, humble person,” says Sanele Zungu who works nearby. A young girl tells YOU Bathobile was always very friendly and nice to the children in the neighbourhood and went by the name Nathi.
Other residents defend her, asking why police went after her when there are so many corrupt politicians getting off scot-free. “Politicians and other powerful people steal money, and nothing happens to them. Why is Bathobile the only one being arrested? It’s not fair, they must go arrest all the corrupt politicians first,” one community member says.
Despite Bathobile’s arrest, Vangile vows she will not turn her back on her granddaughter.
“When she appears in court, she must be honest and tell the truth about what happened,” she says. “Only she and God know what that is. I will be happy if she is released and can come home again. When she moved in, she told me she had nowhere else to go, so this is her home, and she will live here until the day I die.
- Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Mavela Masondo confirmed Bathobile Mlangeni had been charged with theft and said the missing cash had not yet been found. At her latest appearance in the Alexandra magistrate court on 24 January, Bathobile abandoned her bid for bail and her case was postponed to 18 February.
EXTRA SOURCES: NEWS24.COM, TIMESLIVE.CO.ZA