Vodacom magician speaks

It takes magician Rashid Juma about 10 minutes to prepare a space in his mother’s living room for the show he’s about to perform.

The M&G tracked down Rashid—known by his first name when he performs—after it emerged this month that former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig had paid thousands of rands for his study trip to the United States.

Rashid is good: he pours a sachet of sugar on to my sweater—and then makes it disappear, only to re-appear in a R10 note. He places two balls in my hand—and they magically multiply.

But of course Rashid is good; after all, he attended the same magic school as David Copperfield and Nom Nielsen—the prestigious Chavez Studio of Magic in Southern California—where he graduated with sleight-of-hand, stage magic and the essentials of theatre.

The camera never lies, right?

The M&G was held spellbound by the antics of magician Rashid Juma as he performed a private magic show for us in his mother’s home in Johannesburg. Juma attended the same magic school as great magicians David Copperfield and Nom Nielsen—the prestigious Chavez Studio of Magic in Southern California.

watch the video

Meeting Alan-Knott Craig
Following a performance at the Vodacom CEO Awards in 2004, Rashid approached then chief executive Alan Knott-Craig for assistance in paying for his studies at the US school.

“After I performed for Vodacom I went to him and said, ‘Alan you know what I need to study overseas. Can you sponsor me? There is really no other way’,” Rashid told the M&G in an interview on January 27.

“If Alan wasn’t going to sponsor me I don’t think I was going to get anywhere, because it’s very difficult, especially with the magic industry in this country. It’s very difficult for people to just book any magician.”

But not everyone thinks the investment made by Knott-Craig was a good one.

The disappearing sugar

Take a look at another spectacular trick performed by magician Rashid Juma.

Watch the video

Allegations
The Sunday Times reported on January 17 that in 2008 the Vodacom board commissioned a KPMG forensic report after two former Vodacom employees accused Knott-Craig of misusing his position to further the interests of family members. The staff members also said Vodacom paid for Rashid to study magic in the US, where he reportedly spent over R300 000 on props in 2008.

According to Rashid, Vodacom sponsored all his study costs, including tuition, accommodation, travel and props. There are no details on the Chavez Studio of Magic’s website about tuition costs and Rashid said he has no idea how much had been spent.

Richard Boorman, Vodacom spokesperson, told the M&G on Thursday that Rashid’s sponsorship had been a legitimate use of funds from the Vodacom Foundation, and was part of a corporate social responsibility initiative. The Sunday Times erroneously reported that Rashid was an employee at the time. According to Boorman, the funding was made available to him as a previously disadvantaged individual.

Rashid had not heard about the allegations before the M&G questioned him, but he maintains that Knott-Craig’s investment had not been a waste of money.

‘Dancing with the note’ #1

Take a look at another spectacular trick performed by magician Rashid Juma.

Watch the video

‘Something wonderful’
Rashid first saw magic at a circus when he was 12-years-old. He started taking out books on magic from the library. Later, he took to busking outside the Market Theatre in Newtown, typically taking home less than R1 000 a month.

“I used to earn R20, R30 a day and because of these props I earn now in the range of R15 000 to R25 000. I paid my mom’s house off [and] the people that I work with. I helped them and it’s all because of these props. So Alan Knott-Craig has done something wonderful for me,” he said.

His equipment, stored in large cases stacked in the garage of his mother’s house in Eldorado Park, includes bird cages, a large disco ball containing a sword, and special playing cards and a special cylinder.

“Here in Eldorado Park it’s always drugs, there is nothing positive, so for me—performing and practicing magic every day with other people—is good.”

Rashid speaks fondly of the experience overseas.

“It was very nice. Weekends we used to go to Las Vegas and watch other shows.”

The students were able to go backstage and learn special effects and illusions. These are skills he wishes to pass on.

‘Spread your wings’
“There are also other job opportunities for other dancers that I am working with because this equipment requires dancers. It requires a lot of things, so there are a lot of job opportunities. I am not the only one who’s benefiting from this,” said Rashid, adding that he is training three other students.

But even with the state-of-the-art equipment, Rashid still struggles to move the unwieldy props from the garage to a practice venue.

“It’s a different story if Vodacom bought me a truck for this equipment. If I have to go practice I have to take this equipment to a hall. It’s going to cost me a lot of money to always hire a truck to get the equipment out of here, take it to a hall and go and practice ... so it’s difficult.”

Still, Rashid is determined to make Knott-Craig proud for recognising his potential, even though he said the former Vodacom CEO has asked for nothing in return. Boorman confirmed this too.

“I think he saw all the talent that I have and potential. Alan really believes in me and he is going to be proud of me because I also entered SA’s Got Talent. With some of these props I am going to enter SA’s Got Talent again this year and I am going to surprise Vodacom with the equipment they have sponsored me with.”

“You know what his [Knott-Craig’s] last words were, when I came back? He said ‘Rashid, I want you to work for anybody—not only for Vodacom. I want you to go out there and spread your wings. You don’t owe me anything.’ Those were his last words. ‘Go out there and spread your wings’.”

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