Portrait | The streetfighter who turns scandal into political virtue


Portrait | The streetfighter who turns scandal into political virtue

Not only is the self-proclaimed ‘coalition king’ Gayton McKenzie not ashamed of his delinquent past, he wears it like a crown for all to see, writes WILLEM KEMPEN.

GAYTON McKENZIE's first grand coalition had just four members, all of them hardened criminals serving long-term sentences in Bloemfontein's Grootvlei prison:

  • McKenzie himself, 15 years for armed bank robbery.
  • Moosa Mia, 30 years for a double murder.
  • Petrus Sekutoane, 18 years for murder.
  • Samuel “Skollie" Grobbelaar, 11 years and nine months for stock theft, fraud and escape.

As you can see, we are the true rainbow nation,” a grinning McKenzie told Jacques Pauw when they first met in May 2002 to negotiate a price for the video he and his prison pals had secretly made about abuses in jail.

McKenzie, Pauw later recounted, was clearly the leader of what later became known as the Grootvlei Four. He was also the financier, producer, director, marketer and distributor of the video, which made headlines locally and internationally. (Watch the Special Assignment episode here.)

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

McKenzie initially wanted R500,000 for the video but was eventually willing to accept R70,000 — facts he did not mention in his book on the events, The Choice: The Gayton McKenzie Story. 

Yet the Grootvlei Four paid a heavy price. The commission of inquiry under Judge Thabani Jali later heard that prison gangs had declared a “fatwa" against them. McKenzie and Grobbelaar were attacked in prison before Jali ordered them protected, and all of them except Mia were released on early parole a few months after the first broadcast of the video.

After his release, McKenzie paved the road to his own redemption with a series of books and by telling his story at schools across the country. A blog about his motivational talks proclaimed in 2010:

After an extraordinary life of crime, prison and redemption, Gayton McKenzie is today one of the most well-loved and sought-after motivational speakers in the country and has addressed millions of school kids, parents and businesspeople with his hard-hitting, entertaining, engaging and inspiring talk, which inspired his bestselling autobiography The Choice. He has worked with various corporate sponsors such as Chubb and Nike [...]. He has been very successful over the past two years in building his own business profile: currently, with his business partners, he owns ZAR Lounge in Sandton [together with his former Grootvlei prison mate and convicted fraudster Kenny Kunene] and has been laying the foundations for a strong venture capital company with investments in mining and energy projects in Africa. He is a valued consultant in the SA mining industry, his strength primarily in stakeholder relationships.

It remains unclear exactly how McKenzie built these “stakeholder relationships" that made him such a “valued consultant in the SA mining industry". In fact, only one company found him so valuable: Gold Fields, which was about to lose its South African mining rights because it could not muster an acceptable level of black “empowerment".

Gold Fields apparently solved the problem by giving McKenzie a mountain of cash that he could hand out at his discretion to anyone he felt should be empowered. As amaBhungane wrote in 2014:

Mining house Gold Fields allowed ex-con Gayton McKenzie to pack its 2010 empowerment consortium with a dizzying array of his colleagues, family, neighbours and friends — including a R61 million stake to Danny Smith, who has had serious brushes with the law.

Smith’s was one of the four largest individual stakes, despite the fact that he admitted to amaBhungane that he “didn’t bring any” value to the deal [...].

AmaBhungane’s calculations show McKenzie’s associates were handed benefits worth more than R330 million, a substantial part of the R2.1 billion black economic empowerment deal. This suggests the company either did not properly vet the transaction or knowingly embraced the enrichment of its consultant’s cronies.

(Smith grew up with McKenzie in Heidedal outside Bloemfontein. He was at one stage the “head of operations" at the same ZAR Lounge in Sandton where Kunene earnt the nickname “The Sushi King" for, among other things, the imaginative ways in which he had partially dressed women serve his food to him.)

In 2013, McKenzie and Kunene founded the Patriotic Alliance (PA) with the slogan “Ons baiza nie" (We are scared of nothing). “The PA was born in the heart of the coloured community and its pain, but we are a multiracial party that is fighting for a better future for all the country’s children," it declares on its website.

The PA didn't initially gain much traction at the polls but McKenzie used its growing coloured support as a strategic lever. In metro councils such as Johannesburg and Tshwane, the PA as a coalition partner often makes the difference between winning and losing, a situation McKenzie regularly exploits and which led to the now infamous mudslinging between him and Leon Schreiber of the DA:

McKenzie won't lose any support because Schreiber publicly called him a “vuilgoed" (“rubbish"), quite the opposite. He'll probably just continue to threaten things like deporting all immigrants, banning labour unions and reinstating the death penalty.

In the words of a coloured community leader on the Cape Flats earlier this week:

Gayton McKenzie doesn't pretend he's better than us. Gayton is honest enough to say he wants power and that he will work with anyone to gain power, because without power you can't look after your people. He's not hiding anything. He stands by his principles. He wants to bring God back into government and into schools. He wants to deport illegal immigrants. He's looking out for property rights. The ANC and the EFF and MK will not be able to meet these conditions. And the DA stabbed him in the back in Tshwane and refused to cooperate with him. He's the one who clearly says what he stands for and who he'll work with and who doesn't hide behind nice little words. Gayton has my support.

♦ VWB ♦

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