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From Crime To Cabinet: How Former Bank Robber Became Minister in South Africa


Gayton McKenzie, a former gangster turned politician, has assumed the role of South Africa’s Minister of Sports, Arts, and Culture, marking a remarkable transformation from a life of crime to a seat in government.

Appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa following the recent elections, McKenzie, leader of the Patriotic Alliance (PA), now navigates a new chapter in his controversial career.

Known for his bold persona and unconventional background, McKenzie, 50, once made headlines for bank robberies and gang affiliations, which led to a seven-year prison sentence.

However, he turned his life around upon release, becoming a motivational speaker, author of “A Hustler’s Bible,” and entrepreneur with ventures ranging from nightclubs to mining.

“I might have had 12 rand in my pocket, but I had a billion rand in my mind,” McKenzie famously stated, reflecting on his journey in a 2013 interview.

His political career began with the founding of the PA in 2013, appealing primarily to South Africa’s coloured community and advocating a tough stance on issues like immigration.

The PA secured parliamentary representation for the first time in the recent elections, gaining 2% of the national vote and 8% in the Western Cape provincial elections.

McKenzie’s appointment as minister underscores his party’s growing influence, although it has not been without controversy.

Critics have accused McKenzie of xenophobia due to his campaign against undocumented migrants under the slogan “Abahambe” (“Let them go”).

Despite backlash, McKenzie remains steadfast, advocating for policies he believes will benefit South Africa’s socio-economic landscape.

In his new role, McKenzie aims to elevate sports, particularly car spinning, into a prominent national pastime, aiming to steer youth away from crime and drugs.

Car spinning, a motorsport rooted in township culture, holds significant cultural and social relevance, though often criticized for safety concerns.

McKenzie’s political ascent is not without scrutiny. He faces allegations of financial mismanagement during his tenure as mayor of Central Karoo, including questions about funds raised for community projects.

These accusations have drawn attention from political rivals and the media, challenging his credibility as a government official.

Despite ongoing investigations and political challenges, McKenzie remains resilient, vowing transparency and defending his record.

As he settles into his new ministerial post, McKenzie’s journey continues to captivate South Africa, embodying a narrative of redemption and political ambition against a backdrop of controversy and public scrutiny.

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