Steal a Few Cents

Steal a Few Cents

Steal a few cents and they put you in jail. Steal a few million and they put you in charge.


Mpho Mamela, a young accountant at a coal mine in the Middelburg coalfields of South Africa is killed one night when he gets caught in the rollers of a conveyor belt. He is mangled beyond recognition. There will be an official State enquiry into his death, by the Inspectorate of Mining. Stephen Wakefield, the in-house lawyer and a director of the company, begins preparing for the enquiry, but he struggles to understand what happened - Mamela should not have been anywhere near the place he was killed.

Bit by bit, Stephen’s investigation uncovers a story far removed from a simple workplace accident. A web of deception and massive fraud is unveiled; fraud perpetrated by a person who publicly insists on high standards of morality and honesty. It becomes clear to Stephen that Mamela had tried to blackmail the guilty party to help his lover, who is in prison for attempting to steal a trifling amount from the mining company.

When the killer learns that his actions are about to be exposed, Stephen realises that his own life is now in danger...


Rupert Smith’s Steal a Few Cents is a remarkable debut. Set on a coalmine in the Middelburg area, it presents a South Africa where the divisions of race and language are blurred, and the issues have reverted to the universal ones of good, evil, power, and money. Especially money. The gap between the have-nots and the have-it-alls remains enormous. Smith, a retired attorney with a 30-year career in the mining industry, knows the context of his story – based on actual events - intimately. Mpho, a young accountant for the mine is found horribly mangled by a massive conveyer belt that transports the coal. He had no reason to be in the area, and what is at first accepted as a tragic accident starts pointing to a homicide as Stephen Wakefield, the in-house lawyer, puts together the case for the inevitable state enquiry. He discovers that Mpho’s lover was jailed for ‘stealing a few cents’, while Mpho himself seems to be involved with a senior figure stealing a few million. Wakefield is a sympathetic protagonist. Reaching the end of his career, he has the experience and insight to work his way through the mystery. He also has the integrity and courage to do something about it. Despite Wakefield’s patient, laid back approach, this is a page-turner that not only takes you into the mine, but also into the minefield of politics and finance surrounding the industry. Rich characters, good writing, and smooth plotting make this a first-rate read. Michael Sears Co-author with Stanley Trollip of the Michael Stanley Detective Kubu mysteries. ~ Michael Sears, SA Airways Magazine

April 22, 2018 southcapenetRegular Columns Rupert Smith Roundfire Books Review: Brian Joss In movie parlance “Steal A Few Cents” would be known as a sleeper, a film that unexpectedly became a success. And I predict that this book will fly off the shelves when readers discover it. The title comes from the words, “Steal a few cents and they put in you jail; steal a few million and they put you in charge”, spoken by Mpho Mamela, to his gay lover Frankie Mabena, who is tossed into jail after he was caught “cooking the books”. The action starts when the young accountant Mamela is trapped in the rollers of a conveyor belt and his body mangled beyond recognition at a coal mine in Emalahleni (Middelburg). Regulations call for an official enquiry by the Inspectorate of Mining. Stephen Wakefield, the lawyer for Sethemba and Biesiesfontein Colliery, and a director of the company, is preparing for the hearing and wants to know what happened. Mamela was in a restricted area and should not have been anywhere near there. As Wakefield digs he learns that Mamela’s death was not just a workplace accident. He uncovers a web of corruption which extends to the highest level of Sethemba. The key is a missing Tablet that was given to Mamela as a gift from a mysterious benefactor. The characters are well developed even Wakefield’s wife, Lisa, who has a peripheral role in the story. They include Thuli Mpongose, the successful CEO of Sethemba who never forgets to remind people that he’s the boss or where he comes from; the jovial priest Ronald Ncube; chairman of the enquiry Kraai Serfontein who bears a grudge against Sethemba; security manager on the mine, rugby fanatic Jonny “Mountain Man” van Straten; the prissy human resources manager, Trevor Hodges; and the General, Shakes, an MK veteran and owner of the company to whom Wakefield reports. It’s a story that has all the ingredients which make newspaper headlines: racism; cronyism; blackmail and more. Steal A Few Cents is just 261 pages but it packs a solid punch. An excellent read. If this book was submitted to any of the mainstream publishers and it been rejected they missed an opportunity. Rupert Smith is a retired attorney who spent 30 years in the South African mining industry and in Steal A Few Cents he writes about what he knows. ~ The Gremlin, Brian Joss

Steal a Few Cents is a well-paced, sophisticated whodunit that can also lay claim to being a literary novel. Its strong sense of place occasionally comes across as downright lyrical. Although this is not first and foremost a character-driven novel, Smith does a marvelous job of fleshing out the principals, by giving them authentic dialogue and also by putting them in confrontations where they show what they’re made of. I was not instantly taken with chief protagonist Stephen, but came over to his side during a lovely scene where he quietly and believably shuts down a bullying bureaucrat. Smith deftly gives his hero adversaries who deserve comeuppance. Justice is particularly sweet as served up by the non-flashy sexagenarian Stephen. ~ Melanie Forde, NetGalley

I wasn't sure what to expect at first because the book had a demure start but I thoroughly enjoyed this selection. The tone of the book made it an even more special experience - I really felt as though I was investigating with the characters. This was such a pleasant, fulfilling read. ~ Brandi Welch, NetGalley

In Rupert Smith's addictive new book, the mining magnates of old may have gone, but the cowboy antics of the industry haven't. Smith is suitably modest when describing his long involvement with mining - having been party to some of the most interesting post-apartheid deals, has also meant that he witnessed some of the shenanigans which goes with running mines in South Africa. It makes him uniquely placed to write a fast-paced thriller - but not one so fast paced that loses its balance of plot development and attention to detail. Unputdownable! ~ Kalim Rajab, writer and corporate executive based in Johannesburg

"Steal a few Cents is a fast-paced thriller of coal mining and corruption - exciting and immediate. Mining in South Africa is all too much like this. " Hulme Scholes is a South African mining lawyer, and a director of Malan Scholes Attorneys, Johannesburg. The firm is consulted by a wide spread of South African and international mining companies. ~ Hulme Scholes

“Fast-paced, tightly written, and authentic , Steal a Few Cents spins an all too convincing thriller out of a South African setting of veld, mining and corruption.” Tim Butcher , author of Blood River, Chasing the Devil, and The Trigger ~ Tim Butcher

"Rupert Smith knows the South African coal mining industry intimately, and it shows in this riveting murder mystery. From the mines of Emalahleni to the boardrooms and suburbs of Johannesburg, each scene and character rings true. A fabulous read!" Paul Theron, CEO of Vestact Asset Management in Johannesburg; and is a television presenter. ~ Paul Theron

“An intriguing mystery of today’s South Africa, where the Rainbow Nation comes face to face with corruption and greed. The writing crackles with authenticity and sense of place. A splendid addition to new local writing” Steve Davies is the owner and director of Bay Books. He has been a reviewer and in the book trade for decades. ~ Steve Davies

“You learn a lot about countries (and industries) from novels. Rupert Smith does not disappoint with his latest.” Bobby Godsell is the former CEO of AngloGold Ltd, one of the biggest gold mining companies in the world; and the former Chairman of Optimum Coal Holdings Ltd, a listed coal mining company in South Africa. Bobby spent a lifetime in the South African mining industry. ~ Bobby Godsell

Rupert Smith
Rupert Smith Rupert is 58, a retired attorney, living in Johannesburg, South Africa. His B.A degree at Wits University in Johannesburg was in languages...
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