Makarapas - the crowning glory of South African football

June 21st, 2009 - 9:20 am ICT by IANS  

Johannesburg, June 21 (DPA) They’re gaudy, they’re fun and they’re poised to become the fashion statement of the football World Cup next year.
Of all the paraphernalia surrounding football in South Africa, the

pimped-up construction hats, or makarapas, worn by devotees of the game are the weirdest and most wonderful. Cut, twisted and painted into fabulous headdresses, they give the wearer a look that is part sorcerer, part court jester.

At South Africa’s games in the Confederations Cup, the warm-up tournament for the World Cup currently underway across the country, rows of makarapa-wearing supporters blowing noisily on vuvuzela (plastic trumpets) provide as much entertainment as the players.

The makarapa dates back to 1979, according to the man credited with making the first one.

Alfred Baloyi, 53, a die-hard supporter of the Kaizer Chiefs, a premier

league club from Soweto, had the idea while sitting in a stadium.

“Someone threw a bottle and hit someone on the head,” says Baloyi, sitting in a dark corner of his shack in a squatter camp outside Johannesburg, where he still makes the colourful crowns.

At his next game, Baloyi, who worked as a cleaner at the time in Limpopo province, wore his work safety helmet, which he decorated with football imagery.

As the helmets gained currency among club football fans, he began cutting them and bending them into fantastical shapes.

Three decades ago he was making two or three a day and trying to sell them on the street.

Now, as more and more companies cotton on to the possibility of using

makarapas as a branding tool, Baloyi has gone into partnership with a

sports marketing specialist to begin producing his helmets on a commercial scale.

In a warehouse in downtown Johannesburg, dozens of young men in orange

overalls are working on an order of 190 makarapas for an egg producer.

First, a blue German robot called a Motoman cuts the outline design in the helmet. For the egg helmet, it takes of all 62 seconds.

The helmet is then heated to smooth the cut edges and bent into, or out

of, shape, gaining a dribbling footballer on top and “ears” at the side for the company logo.

Miniature footballs, vuvuzelas, bicycle bells and other accessories can

All be piled on top to add altitude and value.

The helmet then passes into the hands of the artists, seated at big tables covered in sawn-off drinks cans filled with paint, like a kindergarten make-and-do class.

A basic makarapa costs about 200 rand ($24.82) but models with all the

Bells and whistles can cost 800 rand and more.

As the orders pour in from restaurants, newspaper groups, tourism

councils, Rapid Mass Prototyping (RMP), as the company is called, has stepped up recruiting. In two months, the workforce has grown from eight to 31.

Andy Tshotshoe, a 29-year-old artist and father of two from Soweto, hadn’t had a steady job in three years before RMP came knocking.

“I love art and now I can pay my bills,” he says as he traces a lion’s

head on a makarapa.

Baloyi’s fortunes have also improved. He earns a comfortable wage from his two business partners - a sum he doesn’t want to disclose for security reasons - as well as a cut on all the makarapas sold.

The money has allowed him to extend his shack in Primrose squatter camp

And pay for his daughter Calphina, 20, to go to art school.

Baloyi, an instantly recognizable fan at Confederations Cup matches with his crozier-shaped makarapa, Coca-Cola World Cup pyjamas and plastic Bafana Bafana guitar, is bracing for a surge in demand from local and foreign fans over the coming year.

“Over 2010 I will be so busy I can’t stop,” he says.

His excitement at South Africa playing host to the first World Cup on the African continent permeates his dreams.

“I sleep with a smile because I’m very happy at the idea of seeing people here from all around the world.”

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