BY THE time the dust had settled, seasoned cash guard Aaron Vusi Mbhele lay dead on the street, his body riddled with dozens of bullets.

Mbhele, say witnesses, was publicly executed by gung-ho soldiers training in town ahead of deployment to the DRC. Across the street were the bodies of three robbers, part of a large gang armed to the teeth with army-issue rifles.

Now the Dispatch has reconstructed the moments before and after Mbhele’s death through interviews with residents, shoppers and security veterans.

Their accounts include what they say they saw of footage from CCTV cameras, and it paints a terrifying scene of incompetence and brutality – and raises the possibility of a sinister cover-up.

Mbhele, of SBV security, was shot 37 times, taking 29 bullets in his buttocks and upper legs, but with one entering the back of his neck and exiting out his mouth.

It is claimed that Mbhele took most of the slugs after the army intervened. He bravely helped to shoot and kill three out of eight or 10 robbers in a wild shootout.

Mbhele, with a bullet or two in his leg, was gesticulating for more ammunition from his position wedged head-first under the bank manager’s car. By then Westgate Street was silent. But eyewitnesses and a well-placed source in the security sector described how a few minutes later Mbhele’s body was enveloped in dust and bullets skidded off the ground as three or four soldiers dropped to one knee behind him and after being screamed at twice by their officer in command, fired on automatic from a few metres away. SANDF spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga said the matter was “sub judice” and that the army was leaving the matter up to the police.

Eastern Cape police spokeswoman Colonel Sibongile Soci said the postmortem would confirm the number of bullets fired into Mbhele, but said: “The results of the postmortem cannot be discussed with the media. According to police information, there was no report of tampering of the crime scene.”

However, the Saturday Dispatch investigation team spoke to 17 residents and was told that the shootout was over by the time the army arrived and opened fire.

“You can see the crowd suddenly start to move away and flee,” said the security source, who watched security camera footage.

Saturday Dispatch was also told the army had an underlying interest to find out if their weapons or soldiers were involved in the heist.

A semi-automatic R4 tripod rifle fired by a tall red-shirted robber, whom a security source said behaved as if he had “military training” before he was killed, holds a vital clue, the source said.

The gun was plucked from the ground by SBV guards in an armoured vehicle that was trying to provide cover for the SBV rifleman who came under fire from the army. The security source claimed that had the R4 not been handed to police for ballistic testing, “it would have disappeared”.

SANDF claimed at a media briefing that they prevented “R21-million” from being stolen, but the security source said a bag of money from the trolley disappeared with the surviving members of the gang.

The security source and witnesses said video footage captured at a petrol station and bottle store opposite the bank showed that when the six-minute shootout between robbers and guards finished at 9.26am, three robbers lay dead in the road.

Mbhele was heard shouting for ammunition. A robber’s bullet had hit him in the gun hand, knocking his magazine from the weapon. The SBV rifleman standing at the Caltex petrol station had shouted to Mbhele: “It’s over!”

But after four minutes had passed, soldiers entered the scene and, over a five-minute period, fired volleys which put the SBV rifleman at risk, as well as scores of citizens in the busy street, one of whom was shot in the shin. The lifeless robber in the red shirt was also pumped full of bullets.

The security source said the driver of the SBV vehicle that drove up to where the soldiers were crouched behind a pile of rubble, had shouted through the gun slot that Mbhele, lying injured between two cars at the bank entrance, was “one of ours”. However, he said, a “stocky officer wearing round dark glasses” at whom he was shouting, turned on his heel, and proceeded to shoot Mbhele.

An eyewitness standing metres away said an officer had approached Mbhele and, using a straight gun arm, fired at least four rounds at him.

The officer then ordered four soldiers into a drop-knee firing position facing Mbhele who was lying with his buttocks and torso exposed from under the bank manager’s Dodge, and then shouted “Shoot!”

The video footage and the witness revealed that the soldiers hesitated and only opened fire on automatic for three seconds, when ordered to a second time.

The eyewitness said the troops went back to their position at the rubble, but the officer returned, this time with an automatic rifle.

He took up a position where Mbhele’s head was in better view, and fired two bursts on automatic, a witness said.

The officer later stepped over Mbhele and kicked the guard’s pistol out of his hand, as if to scrutinise the weapon, the security source claimed.

That evening, when Mbhele’s corpse was delivered to Lusikisiki mortuary, the back half of his bullet proof vest with its A4-sized SBV identifying insignia, was missing.

The security source said the double-back Velcro binding front and back of the specialised vests, was designed to withstand battle conditions and he had never known one to come loose in action. The Saturday Dispatch was also told that Mbhele’s body was seen in the mortuary and had no bullet wounds in the back.

“His vest was removed and now the army is saying he was shot because of mistaken identity,” said the source.

Video footage also allegedly reveals how two robbers fled the scene. One is seen stashing his weapon under the back wheel of an apparently random car, while a second gets into a Corsa bakkie that was surrounded by soldiers – and is allowed to drive away. Soci said: “Police rushed to the scene as soon as they were alerted by people close to the robbery,” but eyewitnesses said police only arrived 16 minutes later, and that it took less time to walk to the scene from the local station. –– and