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. 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.
JSE ALSI 40 listed 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.”