The weekend's multi-million rand heist at Absa Bank, Witbank, was hatched in Soweto, Johannesburg, and involved at least 14 bandits, according to senior Mpumalanga police.
But the real action started on Saturday when Emmanuel Ndlovu, 30, from Soweto, an employee of Fidelity Security Services stationed at Absa Bank in Witbank, was on duty with two colleagues guarding inside the building.
He was supposed to have knocked off at 1pm but Ndlovu, who allegedly admitted to the police that he was party to the heist, had already given his access card to the robbers.
Captain Leonard Hlathi said after reporting for work Ndlovu allegedly kept sending his two colleagues outside and at about 10am, four gangsters arrived at the bank.
"He hid them in the ceiling of the building where they remained until 2pm when the staff knocked off."
Hlathi said there were four staff members, including two custodians, who were busy counting money.
"When Ndlovu was supposed to knock off at 1pm he decided to extend his stay at work and (he) moved the four from the ceiling to the locker room," he said.
At 2pm, when the staff had finished counting the money, they went to the locker room to refresh. The gunmen were waiting for them and held them up.
They thugs were immediately joined by 10 others who had been sitting in a minibus parked some distance from the bank.
"The gunmen instructed the custodians to lead them to the vault and open it," Hlathi said. "The men loaded the money into the waiting Vito before speeding off the premises."
The loot was estimated at R14million but far less has been recovered.
Hlathi said Ndlovu, who pretended not to know the gunmen during the hold-up, was shouting that the staff should hand over the cash to the suspects and "save our lives".
That was when the custodians were forced to open the vault at gunpoint. The brazen robbers wore casual clothes and their faces were not covered.
Shortly after the robbers had left staff and security guards reported the hold-up to the police.
Members of the provincial organised crime unit were alerted and immediately took charge.
They worked for almost 36 hours without a break. They started by thoroughly interviewing the four staff members as well as the three guards.
The interviews continued until Ndlovu allegedly admitted to being an accomplice.
"It was during an intense interview that it was discovered that Ndlovu's access card had been used by the gang to gain entry," Hlathi said.
"The same night he led the investigating team under Captain Welcome Gcabashe to the homes of three suspects in Soweto.
"The robbers used the services of a local inyanga for cleansing before the robbery so that they could evade arrest.
"At the time of the arrest all three were sleeping. At one of the houses a suspect, on hearing that the police were outside, threw a tear gas canister at the police to scare them.
"The canister made a loud bang similar to that of a hand grenade. The cops gave chase and arrested him."
They also found some of the stolen cash stashed in the suspects' homes. Members of the investigating team are looking for the other gang members still on the run.
Meanwhile, the three Sowetans, Clement Lebogang Molubi, 27, Tshepo Thomas Molubi, 32, and Patrick Mntungwa, 36, appeared in the Witbank magistrate's court yesterday and their case was postponed to Tuesday.