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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

31 MILLION REASONS (article first published : 2007-12-18)

On August 31, 1996, the Pinetown branch of the South African Police Services received a call around midnight requesting all police officers in the vicinity to assist in a situation involving “officers in distress”. Backup was immediately responded to by officers in Mariannhill and further afield in Chatsworth. However, the call turned out to be a false alarm.

Clever diversionary tactics? More than likely. Some two hours later, the same branch received a call from SBV, a major cash holding facility located at Westmead near Pinetown. Again the response was swift and when detectives arrived, they found all the employees locked in the canteen. Fortunately, no-one was seriously harmed except for two SBV guards who sustained minor injuries and were airlifted to hospital.

Eventually, the investigations unearthed a scenario which indicated that five armed men approached the two “injured” guards, assaulting them and tying them up before moving through to the main cash holding areas where they demanded keys to the vaults and eventually locked the 30-odd staff members in the canteen. The robbers removed all the closed circuit video recorders and SBV’s arms and ammunition cache which they took with them as well as two vehicles to transport the cash. The vehicles were later found abandoned in Silverglen but carried no fingerprints or other evidence. The total estimated amount of the robbery was about R31 million rand in cash, one of the largest cash heists in South Africa’s history.

At the time, Naresh Veeran was a young student living with his family in Chatsworth and the story intrigued him. It continued to do so, especially after the robbers turned out to be detectives stationed in Chatsworth, one of them being an acquaintance of his. Time went by and some eight years later he happened upon an old newspaper article dealing with the SBV heist referring to the murder of a witness.

This started Naresh off on a series of “what if…?” scenarios fuelled by the fact that, while the actual amount of the cash involved (31 million) was simply the amount the facility was insured against, many believe that substantially more was taken. The money itself was never found.

The novel evolved mainly as an exercise to pass the time away during internal flights to and from meetings in his line of work as an advertising and media management specialist. Naresh acknowledges Independent Newspapers for their considerable input in the make-up of his novel as, in order to document all the information to date, he downloaded every one of the 447 articles written about the SBV heist.

In 31 Million Reasons, Naresh takes his reader on a fast-moving and highly-readable journey as he plots the process of an efficiently-manipulated heist from beginning to end. The story is mainly seen through the eyes of Detective Sashwin Haj whose methods are unconventional but invariably successful. As no-one received injury in the heist, he suspects his colleagues in the force and goes undercover to prove his theory. What he doesn’t anticipate, is having to work in close proximity with the murdered witness’s daughter, an attractive young lady with a mind of her own.

Once you get your head around the numerous main players in the story, it rattles along at a good pace. Naresh’s characters are well drawn and he includes much humour in his writing. Married to a whisky drinker, I delighted in one of his phrases: “… he poured himself a shot of J&B and frightened it with a drop of water.” His passion for cooking, inherited from his mother, means that the reader gets more than a cursory description of whatever anyone’s eating!

While 31 Million Reasons is based on a true story, names, dates and incidents have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved. It’s a fascinating read. The book is published in paperback by Niche Media Network. ISBN 0-620-34310-9 – Caroline Smart




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