Gayton McKenzie: I’m a politician, not a pope

2013-12-01 14:00

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Gayton McKenzie founded the Patriotic Alliance because he’s ‘tired of waiting’

Rosina Booysen never imagined she would become the face of a new political party.

The 77-year-old retired Groote Schuur Hospital cleaner has arthritis in her knees and battles to climb three flights of concrete steps to her council flat in Manenberg on the Cape Flats.

Manenberg is regularly caught in the cross hairs of gang violence.

It is common for families to sleep huddled in corridors, away from glass window panes that shatter when bullets are exchanged.

An estimated 70?000 people are crammed into the 3.35km² Cape coloured township, considered one of the most violent in the country.

Its residents are mostly unemployed. Those who hold down jobs typically run shops from their homes or sweep streets; others turn to drugs and crime.

Booysen’s plight touched him deeply, Gayton McKenzie tells City Press.

The 39-year-old convicted bank robber-turned-mining businessman, motivational speaker and now politician is speaking to City Press in the back of a metallic silver kombi while being chauffeured to a campaign meeting in Manenberg on Wednesday at dusk.

A bakkie with three bodyguards drives ahead.

We stop at Booysen’s home in Aletta Court.

A lone framed photograph of her daughter smiling at her matric dance is on one wall.

Booysen sighs: “She matriculated 10 years ago and still doesn’t have a job.”

Says McKenzie: “This mammie represents what needs to change in this country.”

Downstairs, we are shown into a one-bedroom flat that is home to 30 people.

We continue our ride in the kombi, which is littered with newspapers.

He says: “I’ve been waiting for the intellectuals to come up with a plan. Then I grew tired of waiting and took matters into my own hands.”

He says that he owns property all over and that he is currently based in an apartment overlooking Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. He has one ex-wife and eight children.

Parenthood appears to be key to McKenzie’s thinking. He founded the Patriotic Alliance six months ago.

Thus far he is the party’s main sponsor, with additional donations from his ex-business partner and “brother”, Kenny Kunene, he of sushi king fame. The two ex-cons became friends in jail.

Asked about their chequered pasts, McKenzie retorts: “Listen, we’re not choosing the pope here; we’re choosing a politician. What happened in the past is in the past.”

Recently, questions were raised over McKenzie’s involvement in controversial mining deals with Gold Fields and Central Rand Gold.

At present, the newly registered political party is based at the N1 City office complex in Goodwood, with plans to set up more offices in target constituencies.

The party’s interim leadership was decided at a meeting in Paarl yesterday afternoon.

In the past six months, McKenzie has travelled around the country, meeting with community leaders and whipping packed halls into frenzies of laughter and applause.

His main aim is to empower coloured people, he says, adding that the Patriotic Alliance, however, wants to be inclusive, hence the word ‘Alliance’.

His credentials allow him insight into the socioeconomic fabric of his target voters.

He grew up in Heidedal, declared an official “coloured township” by the Bloemfontein City Council in 1963, and started dabbling in gang culture when he was 13.

He chronicled his remarkable ascent from rags to riches in the book A Hustler’s Bible, released earlier this year.

Patriotic Alliance’s motto is “For our children”.

At the core of his message lies hope.

“There’s one thing that coloured areas have in common all over the country: an acute absence of hope. I became a gangster simply because there were no other economic opportunities,” he says.

“Back then during apartheid, coloured people weren’t white enough; now we’re not black enough.”

Our kombi pulls up outside a community centre in Manenberg, surrounded by barbed wire, as the sun disappears.

McKenzie’s bodyguards enter the building first and signal for him to follow.

Inside a packed audience awaits.

There are rows of young men with gold chains and hoodies, as well as grannies, grandfathers, whole families.

He greets them in Afrikaans: “Goeienaand! Ons is arm maar ons is nie gevrék nie!” (Good evening! We’re poor, but we’re far from down and out!)

He conveys empathy with conviction, punching the air with his fist to punctuate sentences expertly doused in colloquial phrases.

“Ons is gatvol!” he exclaims loudly into the microphone.

McKenzie is charismatic and a good speaker, and within moments the audience is wrapped around his pinkie.

His speech is peppered with provocative terms like “war and revolution”. The crowd applauds.

He is vague on how exactly he plans to go about alleviating poverty in these communities.

But his words resonate with people desperate for any glimmer of hope.

Rosina Booysen leaves the meeting smiling, her bright-green Patriotic Alliance T-shirt glowing under the street lights.

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