Hats off to the original Makarapa –30 years in the making!
Big business rallies behind a unique small enterprise with enormous dreams
To get ahead in business you need a hard head, but Alfred Baloyi has much more than that: he has a hard hat, and not just any safety helmet, but a gloriously hand-painted, sculpted hard hat known as a Makarapa.
And, if a group of South African business leaders have their way, Baloyi’s marvellous Makarapas will be the crown on the coming football festivities.
Since Baloyi made his first Makarapa 30 years ago — a matter of necessity after dodging flying bottles at a Kaizer Chiefs game in 1979 — his custom-made safety helmets have become the headgear of choice at football matches across South Africa.
For many years, Baloyi ran his accidental micro-business from a tiny workshop at his home at the Ga-Makausi informal settlement in Germiston, training others to help him, selling Makarapa at stadiums and taxi ranks and becoming a colourful legend in fan circles.
Then Baloyi’s pimped helmets were the surprise front row attraction at the Confederations Cup, gaining unprecedented coverage from an international media startled by the Makarapas’ eye-popping colours and gravity-defying designs, and the not-so-humble helmet went stratospheric.
Several renowned corporations are now rallying behind the former municipal bus cleaner, seizing the opportunity to support this genuine, original South African idea, which offers countless potential marketing and promotion applications in both the business and sporting worlds.
For a start, Baloyi Makarapa has moved into custom-fitted new premises, and the micro entrepreneurship is also being provided with the administration skills and know-how to ensure Baloyi’s original idea remains heads — and hats — above any mass-produced copycats.
Growthpoint Properties Limited — the largest South African listed property company — moved quickly to find the perfect new space for Baloyi Makarapa.
With a market capitalisation of over R23 billion Growthpoint has a quality portfolio of 435 properties in South Africa valued at R29,7 billion, and a further 24 properties in Australia through its investment in Growthpoint Properties Australia (GOZ), valued at R4,9 billion.
Still, Baloyi’s African dreams resonated with the company, and Growthpoint soon secured a suitable studio floor at an affordable, generous rental into Chadwick Place in Wynberg, Sandton, facing on to the M1 Highways and conveniently situated opposite Innisfree Park fan zone.
“The hope is that the studio will mushroom into a colourful communal upliftment hub for a diversity of entrepreneurs,” says Engelbert Binedell, Director of Growthpoint’s Industrial Portfolio, which is valued at nearly R7 billion.
“We look forward to sharing a wonderful journey that realises a truly authentic and sustainable South African arts, cultural and training centre, something that will long outlive the short term excitement of this year’s football tournament,” enthuses Binedell.
Baloyi himself is determined that his invention should create as much employment as possible and personally trains cutters, painters and artists to be part of his colourful team, but he is concerned by the copycats already outsourcing the mass production of fake Makarapas to foreign shores.
“It brings no employment, no money, no skill and no hope to the people of my country,” he says.
Karen Elson, Marketing Manager of Sandton City, agrees that local growth is the way forward, and feels the funky studio will attract tour buses, an idea already being explored.
“Tourists are increasingly eager to include the authentic South Africa in their holidays, and we are equally keen to ensure that South Africans from all walks of life benefit from the success of the economic hub of Africa, and grow along with our shopping centre,” she says. “Baloyi Makarapa factory will offer us a truly exciting, authentic tour experience for our visitors.”
Of course, the empty factory needed fitting, and into the breach stepped WBHO. WBHO has been instrumental in the construction of stadiums and it was thrilled to get behind a deserving, long-term sport-based national initiative. Being in construction, the company strongly identify with safety helmets too!
The studio is being leased by top soccer and sports promoter Grant Nicholls, CEO of Papadi Integrated Marketing CC, who has been supporting his old friend Baloyi for many years, often in his personal capacity.
“For 30 years, Alfred Baloyi has worked from his shack and from my own back garden, but his is a big, bright, beautiful vision that needs the faith and support of big business partners to grow,” says Nicholls.
Apart from ongoing financial support, Nicholls ensured the Makarapa was granted initial trademark protection and registered Baloyi’s Makarapa.com and Makarapa.co.za websites.
Meanwhile his cross-cultural knowledge has been inestimable in growing the business, and bringing the big guns on board; popular brand names as diverse as Coca-Cola, FNB and MTN have embraced the Makarapa, thanks to Nicholls’ involvement.
“As a truly South African company, we understand both the macro and micro business environments, and see in Baloyi Makarapa a wonderful opportunity to meld the two,” says Nicholls.
Baloyi is quick to mention the dedicated support of property developer and businessman Tebogo Mogashoa, who has taken on the role of non-executive Chairman of Makarapa Integrated Marketing.
Mogashoa believes the honour of being involved in this unique imitative is all his.
“We know that when the cheers have faded, Baloyi’s marvellous Makarapas will live on as a symbol of team spirit, national pride and sporting passion,” says Mogashoa. “That is why we are harnessing the strength of big business to grow Baloyi Makarapa, first during the football spectacular which this year brings, and then beyond into a proud, bright, safe and sustainable future.”
Order your original South African art today visit www.Makarapa.com
South Africa has its own enthusiastic footie traditions which means this year’s World Cup will be more fanciful, more fantastical than any seen to date. There are a couple of things every fan shoud not be without. One of the most ‘African’ are the distinctive pimped-out, painted hardhats known as Makarapa.
The splendid Makarapa — with their horns, giant sunglasses, slogans, and vibrant colours — are the crown of South African soccer celebrations, being eminently photogenic and so putting South African supporters literally in the picture in every newspaper in every soccer-mad country in the world.
They have already shone at the Confederations Cup, where the Makarapa brigade were out in force, wearing their bright, intricately sculpted, gigantically bespectacled safety helmets in the front row, often with custom-painted overalls in Bafana Bafana colours too. But where did these crazy hats come from?
The Makarapa was the brainchild of Limpopo-born football fanatic Alfred Baloyi — aka Lux, aka The Professor, aka The Magistrate, aka “just dad” — a man with as many names as he has hats, and the greatest hat he ever wore was the original Makarapa helmet some 30 years ago.
For Kaizer Chief’s devotee Alfred it all started in 1979, when he was sitting in the cheap seats watching his beloved AmaKhosi playing Moroka Swallows at a Soweto soccer derby. As the match hotted up so did the exuberant mood of the supporters, and Alfred looked on in horror as a bottle flew from the upper echelons, smacking into the head of a fan below.
“It was a dangerous place to be,” recalls Alfred, but he certainly wasn’t going to give up attending matches.
Instead, like Newton’s falling apple, that falling bottle spawned an idea, and young Alfred went back to his shack and got his hands on a construction safety helmet (happily in his team’s bright yellow colour) for future matches.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but Alfred didn’t see why his “Makarapa helmet” — named after Johannesburg’s hardhat-wearing migrant miners — should be dull. The municipal bus cleaner had been arty at school, and here at last was an outlet for his talent. He set about transforming his helmet into something both life-saving and life-affirming, painting it with the Amakhosi logo and creating a colourful tribute to both his team and his good sense.
But even Alfred didn’t anticipate the delighted attention his Makarapa helmet would receive in the stands. He would keep his head at the matches that followed, but never his hat, as more and more fans approached him, amazed by his eye-catching headgear, begging to buy it right there, right off his head, and slowly his accidental business grew. “I sold them for R7 each,” he says, smiling at the memory.
With only primary school education and a growing family to support, Alfred learnt his business skills by listening to the demands of his customers. They loved the art, they were impressed by the practicality, and Alfred realised he was onto something far bigger than the buses he polished every day.
“I am not educated,” he says quietly. “It was a gift from God.”
So he quit his job, set up a small workshop in his home, and spent his days producing ever more amazing Makarapa, which he sold at stadiums and taxi ranks.
An original Baloyi Makarapa became unmissable at matches, as Alfred cut, curled, twisted, and shaped each new helmet into a remarkable 3D tribute to the team, resplendent with footballs, firebursts, flags, elephants, wings and even, memorably, a cut-out of Nelson Mandela.
His own vibrant soccer outfit is emblazoned with the word Magistrate, “because I’m the judge on plastic, sentencing it to a new life,” he laughs.
Over time he turned his attention to beautifying the loud, proud but decidedly plain vuvuzela too, and soccer matches would never be the same, as Alfred travelled far across the land to support his team and promote his helmets, always in full Makarapa regalia, resplendent with puppetry, guitar and boombox.
“I call myself a soccer slave because I’ll always go where the game is,” he says.
Gradually, Baloyi’s Makarapas in the grandstands gained the attention of the media — as did raucous vuvuzelas, although sadly not for the same complimentary reasons — and are now capturing the imagination of the world. Makarapa helmets were presented in Switzerland when South Africa was named as 2010 World Cup host, and Fifa president Sepp Blatter was given a Makarapa helmet during an inspection tour of the country. Cricket and rugby fans are demanding Makarapas too, as are big-name corporate customers and tourist boards.
Yet, until March this year, Baloyi Makarapas were still crafted one-by-one at Alfred’s colourful, soccer-festooned shack in Ga-Makausi squatter camp in Germiston, helped by a team of jobbing artists, artists talented enough to have their art displayed at corporate exhibitions yet still battling to put bread on their own tables.
However, Alfred’s big idea has finally outgrown its small beginnings. Together with his long-time friend and ardent football fan, sports marketer and benefactor Grant Nicholls, Alfred has set up the Baloyi Makarapa studio in Wynberg, Sandton, conveniently adjacent to a 2010 Fan Park, and providing employment for 50 people. Alfred has trained the artists and cutters because he’s passionate about creating employment, but he’s still hands-on himself, with his box cutters and his paintbrush — and his enormous imagination.
“We’ve been astounded by the interest and by the size of orders we’re receiving so far,” tells Grant. “Yes, we are producing the original and have registered trademarks for both Makarapa and Baloyi Makarapa”. Makarapa Integrated Marketing (Pty) Ltd has been registered of which Alfred is a shareholder. To maintain his legacy, we have also set up a family trust where royalties from all sales are accumulated. The first beneficiary is Alfred’s daughter Beauty, who is now in her second year at a reputable art school.
“And we expect big things with the World Cup,” says Alfred, adding that they’re already making Makarapa helmets sporting the colours and badges of all the incoming international teams.
Meanwhile Baloyi Makarapa are a hit on Facebook, he has a suitably colourful website at Makarapa.com, and he even takes online orders for original Baloyi Makarapas, some for as little as R250 each. Every order is custom made in our art centre by the many previously unemployed artists – all under the guidance of their “master”, Baloyi.
Somewhere along the way, this former bus cleaner with little education and no training has become an international icon too, revered around the world, adored at home, and able to educate his children as he never was. To his delight, his oldest daughter now attends art college, “following in my footsteps”, he says, beaming with pride.
But Alfred still lives in his original cluttered shack, he still sits in the stadium at every football match he can wearing his own Makarapa, he still gets about by taxi, and the folk in the cheap seats still clammer for their own plastic crown, for their own original Baloyi Makarapa.
- Alfred Baloyi, the man acknowledged as the creator of the Makarapa, offers a wide range of vibrant designs and even makes personalised Makarapa to order!
- Every single Makarapa is handmade and painted! None of the work is mass produced.
- Baloyi Makarapa are made in South Africa and Baloyi’s passion, talent and art continues to grow and create jobs.
- This local product has become a symbol of national pride and team spirit.
- Personalised Baloyi Makarapa are made to reflect you – your personal passion, hobby, nationality, team, company, etc.