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Ex-bank robber, gangster, Mckenzie, becomes South Africa’s Sports Minister

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Ex-bank robber, gangster, Mckenzie, becomes South Africa’s Sports Minister

A former gangster and bank robber who turned into a nightclub owner and opposition politician, Gayton McKenzie has now risen to become South Africa’s minister of sports, arts and culture.

President Cyril Rampahosa appointed Mr McKenzie – the leader of the Patriotic Alliance (PA) – to the portfolio in the multi-party government that he announced on Sunday after his African National Congress (ANC) lost its parliamentary majority in the 29 May election.

A prolific tweeter, the 50-year-od relished his appointment, posting a photo of himself putting on football boots and, with a touch of humour, typed: “Thank you for all the well wishing messages, I will reply shortly I’m just busy getting ready, I have work to do.”

For Mr McKenzie’s admirers, his appointment is the latest sign of how he overcame adversity to achieve success. He robbed his first bank before he turned 16, then became, as he put in an interview with a local radio station, a fully fledged gangster, spent seven years in prison, and vowed to change after his release.

“I might have had 12 rand in my pocket but I had billion rand in my mind. And that is what people do not understand – they concentrate on what they lack instead of how to get what they lack,” he said in a 2013 interview with public broadcaster.

He became a highly paid motivational speaker, got books about his life published, including A Hustler’s Bible, and ventured into various businesses – from mining in Zimbabwe to nightclubs in South Africa – with Kenny Kunene, his soulmate from prison.

Mr Kunene earned the nickname “Sushi King” after he had sushi served on the bodies of women clad only in their underwear at his 40th birthday bash at the Zar Lounge nightclub in an upmarket suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa’s main city.

The nightclub subsequently shut, as did a branch in Cape Town registered in Mr McKenzie’s name following legal action over alleged unpaid rent and electricity, according to the IOL news site.

“I’m not in interested in clubbing. I’m busy with other projects. We killed the Zar brand – there are no future plans [for Zar],” Mr McKenzie was quoted as saying at the time.

These days, Mr McKenzie is better known as a politician, having launched the PA in 2013, with Mr Kunene, as his deputy.

More than a decade later, the party gained 2% of the national vote and fared better in elections for the provincial government in the Western Cape, getting 8%.
Its support came mainly from coloureds, as people of mixed-race are known in South Africa.

The PA’s signature slogan is “Ons baiza nie”, an Afrikaans phrase which loosely translates as “We are not scared”. Afrikaans is widely spoken in the coloured community, which makes up around 8% of South Africa’s population.

“For the first time there is coloured people also going to parliament through the Patriotic Alliance. We are the only party that takes all races to parliament,” Mr McKenzie said, after the results were announced.

Political analyst Kagiso Pooe told the BBC that Mr McKenzie had a “bravado” style, which appeals to his constituency.

“People want to believe and see someone that comes from their type of background and isn’t shy to say, ‘This is who I am.’ You see it with people like President Zuma, President Trump and other such personalities,” he said.

Mr McKenzie’s campaign against undocumented migrants was a vote-winner for him, the analyst added.

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