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A former gangster and bank robber becomes South Africa’s New Sports Minister Gayton McKenzie

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Ayize claire

Jul 7, 2024

From Crime to Cabinet: Gayton McKenzie’s Remarkable Rise to South Africa’s Sports Ministry

South Africa's Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture Gayton Mchenzie

In an unexpected twist of fate, former gangster and bank robber Gayton McKenzie has risen to become South Africa's Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture. President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed McKenzie, the leader of the Patriotic Alliance (PA), to this portfolio in the newly formed multi-party government after the ANC lost its parliamentary majority in the 29 May election.

McKenzie, now 50, celebrated his appointment with a humorous tweet, sharing a photo of himself putting on football boots and writing, "Thank you for all the well-wishing messages. I will reply shortly; I’m just busy getting ready. I have work to do 🥅 ⚽️."

During his swearing-in ceremony, McKenzie, known for his charisma, had the audience, including President Ramaphosa, laughing when he quipped, "The last time a judge asked me to sit, he made me sit for 10 years."

A Story of Redemption

McKenzie's journey from crime to politics is remarkable. He robbed his first bank before turning 16, becoming a notorious gangster. After serving seven years in prison, he vowed to turn his life around. "I might have had 12 rand ($0.65) in my pocket, but I had billion rand in my mind," he said in a 2013 interview with SABC.

Transitioning from crime to motivation, McKenzie became a highly paid motivational speaker, author, and businessman. He ventured into various businesses, including mining in Zimbabwe and nightclubs in South Africa, with Kenny Kunene, his former cellmate.

Political Ascent

In 2013, McKenzie launched the Patriotic Alliance (PA) with Kunene as his deputy. The PA gained 2% of the national vote in the recent election and fared better in the Western Cape, securing 8%. The party's support mainly comes from the coloured community, which makes up about 8% of South Africa's population.

"For the first time, coloured people are going to parliament through the Patriotic Alliance. We are the only party that takes all races to parliament," McKenzie said after the election results were announced.

Controversial Campaigns

McKenzie's bravado style and direct approach resonate with his supporters. His campaign against undocumented migrants, under the slogan "Abahambe" ("Let them go"), drew both support and criticism, with some denouncing it as xenophobic. However, McKenzie remained steadfast, arguing that South Africa needed strong leadership to tackle crime and immigration issues.

Despite not securing the police ministry, McKenzie was content with his sports portfolio. "Sport can be used to change children's lives. A child in sport is a child out of court," he said.

Vision for Sports

McKenzie has ambitious plans for his ministry, including promoting car spinning as a major sport in South Africa. Car spinning, which involves driving in circles and performing stunts, has a stigma due to its dangerous and unregulated nature. McKenzie aims to create safe environments for this sport to thrive, keeping young people away from gangsterism and drugs.

Ongoing Challenges

McKenzie's appointment comes amid an investigation into his tenure as mayor of Central Karoo, where he was accused of failing to account for funds raised at a 2022 gala dinner. Despite this, McKenzie remains confident, stating, "The truth shall come out. I have nothing to hide."

President Ramaphosa's decision to include McKenzie in his cabinet is politically risky, but it underscores McKenzie's transformative journey and his commitment to using sports as a tool for social change. As South Africa watches closely, McKenzie’s next steps in his new role will undoubtedly be pivotal.

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