Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

From Gangster to Minister: Gayton McKenzie’s Unconventional Rise in South African Politics

Gayton McKenzie, a former gangster turned nightclub owner and opposition politician, has defied odds by becoming South Africa’s Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture. Appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the wake of the ANC’s loss of parliamentary majority, McKenzie’s journey to political prominence is as unconventional as it is controversial.

McKenzie, leader of the Patriotic Alliance (PA), celebrated his appointment on social media with characteristic flair, humorously preparing for his new role with a photo in football boots. His inauguration ceremony, attended by President Ramaphosa, saw McKenzie lightening the mood with a quip about his previous encounters with judges during his criminal past.

Starting as a young bank robber and gangster, McKenzie spent years in prison before turning his life around upon release. He transitioned into a motivational speaker, authored books including “A Hustler’s Bible,” and ventured into various businesses, notably nightclubs alongside his former prison mate Kenny Kunene.

While their ventures like the Zar Lounge gained notoriety, McKenzie shifted gears towards politics, founding the PA in 2013 with Kunene as his deputy. In the recent elections, the PA garnered 2% of the national vote, primarily from South Africa’s colored community, using slogans like “Ons baiza nie” (“We are not scared”) to resonate with supporters.

Known for his outspoken style and controversial campaigns, McKenzie’s stance on undocumented migrants, symbolized by his slogan “Abahambe” (“Let them go”), stirred both support and criticism. Critics labeled his views xenophobic, contrasting them with earlier statements praising immigrants’ economic contributions.

As McKenzie eyes the Ministry of Police, citing his gangster past as preparation for tackling crime, analysts note his appeal to voters disillusioned with mainstream politics. Despite controversies, McKenzie’s ascent underscores South Africa’s complex political landscape and ongoing challenges in governance.

McKenzie’s appointment marks a significant chapter in South African politics, reflecting a growing trend of unconventional leaders emerging in the country’s evolving political sphere.

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