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The ex-gangster who has become South Africa’s sports minister

The ex-gangster who has become South Africa's sports minister %Post Title









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 Ramaphosa appointed Mr McKenzie – the leader of the Patriotic Alliance party (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-old 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”.

At his swearing in ceremony three days later, Mr McKenzie had his audience, including Mr Ramaphosa, laughing when, in response to the chief justice asking him to be seated, he quipped: “The last time a judge asked me to sit, he made me sit for 10 years.”

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 early release.

“I might have had 12 rand ($0.65; £0.50) 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 SABC.

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.

These days, he 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%.

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.

“Unfortunately, mainstream politicians and parties have shied away from this and he tackles it directly.”

Critics denounced his campaign as xenophobic. He waged it under the slogan “Abahambe”, which he has translated from the Zulu as “Let them go” – and, in a publicity stunt, he visited the border with Zimbabwe to chase away people trying to enter South Africa. (BBC Africa)

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