Robin Hood or The Man in a Bling-hood?

Bongani Madondo hooks up with Kenny Kunene at 183 Corlett Drive Carwash in Bramley on February 27 2012 at 4pm, where the bible-quoting ‘Sushi King’ gives the most open, intimate and bling-free interview of his life.

Kenny Kunene gives Bongani Madondo a candid interview on Zwelinzima Vavi as his marketing tool, sushi, tenderpreneurs and keeping it real.

M&G: Who is Kenny Kunene?

KK: I’m a caring South African, born and bred in the township. I am the third child and second son of Nancy Kunene and Motsamai Seagele.

My siblings are the late Disebo (the only girl), Papiki and Neo, the last of the brothers. My African name is Thapelo (prayer).
Kunene is my mother’s maiden name. She and my dad divorced just after I was born.

I was born and raised in Kutlwanong Township, in Welkom, in the then Orange Free State.

Listen to the full, candid interview Bongani Madondo had with Kenny Kunene at the M&G offices.

M&G: Growing up memories?
KK: There are a lot. Chief amongst them is the memory of my grandparents, under whom I was partly raised. My granddad was a disciplinarian, an intellectual and a snazzy dresser.

Every day, without fail, he would take a full bath in a waskom skottel (basin), put on his suit, and go sit on his lazy-chair outside, to read his newspapers or books. He had a different suit on every day.

My granny was the family’s and the clan’s breadwinner. In my teens I sold apples, and other chowables at school.

When the principal eventually stopped my small business, done with respectable school frame hours, I got a job at Morgan’s Inn, a local tavern, picking up empty bottles and bottle tops.

I was always on the hustle, yo!

M&G: Why and how come such a hard worker ended up in jail, then?
KK: I grew up loving nice things: The good life. And I could not afford it. I also loved the Porsche brand so much that knowing I couldn’t afford the car (drove a 1984 white Golf), I settled for a pair of Porsche label shoes.

I basically left home for good when I went to varsity. I got involved in crime when I was in university. Vista University, the Welkom Campus; house breaking and stuff. My actual imprisonment crime was fraud.

The three of us ran what was then a brilliant pyramid scheme. An inmate serving time for rape shopped us to the cops to save his skin. After that his case was reviewed, quashed and he walked a free man.

The victim never consulted at all. Obviously I am disgusted at my own involvement in crime. That was the pre-2002 Kenny. Now I am a changed man.

M&G: What does Gayton McKenzie mean to you?

KK: Will tell you what I shared on Twitter: “Friends will love you at all times, brothers are born for moments of adversity.” It actually comes from the Book of Proverbs.

Gayton and I—our brotherhood is soaked in blood. A brother goes with you to the grave. Look, everyone we thought would still be here with us is gone. Not part of us anymore.

Other than his blood family, Gayton and I have nothing but what we mean to each other.

M&G: Sounds like a gangster oath, say the 28s, the Berliners or the Cripps. “Soaked in blood.” Is that a prison oath?

KK: It is what Gayton means to me—period. No amount of money, no beauty of a woman, no power can come between me and that brother. I become emotional when I talk about that brother.

M&G: Sounds like a down low love. Are you straight?

KK: (Emits huge laughter): What? I’ve never done a man in prison. How can I now turn otherwise outside where there’s an over-abundance of women? I balled women in and out. I balled prison female warders, and I still ball women today.

M&G: You were involved in a very public spat with heavyweight trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi in which you basically responded to his disgust at ZAR’s “sushi practice”, implying that that dude is a champagne socialist. Looking back, do you think it was a good move to lock horns with Vavi?

KK: Two answers. The first is rooted in the Romans 8 verse 28: “Everything works together for the good of those who love God.” God gave me that verse when I was in prison.

Although not intended to, my taking on Vavi has worked for my own good, in fact. Secondly, I come from a gangster background and was taught a lot in prison. In those worlds, no man disrespects and you keep quiet.

Vavi disrespected me in front of women (yes that’s plural), my children, my business clients and the whole country. But you know, I am no chicken-shit.

Look, I am no pussy. I am not afraid of any man. I only fear God. Vavi? I have absolutely no regrets. I don’t care if you are the richest man or president of the most powerful country in the world, if you insult my integrity, I will take you on.

M&G: What is the real reason behind ZAR’s closure?

KK: Like I said, we had an agreement and a contract with our host, Radisson Blu. We didn’t anticipate their business would expand/grow in the rate it did since we opened on their top floor.

But they did. And they were our hosts. We don’t own the Radisson. Sometimes when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. But ZAR is still a business. It has not died with our closing of the Sandton branch. We are looking ...

M&G: Do you think Black South Africa was ready for an upscale club like the one you had in mind?

KK: Yes and no. Soon after we got the place up we realised that South Africa was not ready, but the World Cup gave us the much-needed boost.

The business around 2010 World Cup time basically gave us a leg-up. We still believe there’s a market out there.

M&G: How much is Kenny Kunene worth?

KK: I am hustler. The hustle goes on. Otherwise, please ask my financial manager that question.

M&G: Are you a spender or an investor?

KK: Both. I have spent a lot on things I love. People have spent on me. We have business interests out of the country. When I arrived in Russia our Russian business associate treated me like a mini-god.

The rich there know how to enjoy their money. Money needs to be spent, it’s not like I am going to take my money with me to the grave. But I also invest. Some are good, some are terrible investments.

We lost a good R15-million with the international hip-hop concert tour we brought to Southern Africa. You win some, you lose some.

M&G: Do you consider yourself “rich” or do you consider yourself as “wealthy”?

KK: Like I said, talk to my financial manager.

M&G: Can I have his contact details, please?

KK: (Laughs). I try. People should give me a break, I try. I’m not even doing it to brag.

But how many of you in the media know that I have paid full bursaries for top students at Wits and UJ, paid for their apartments close to schools, gave them laptops, have had soccer tournaments launched by the Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga for 20 schools with prize money, and so on?

M&G: Oh c’mon on, Kenny. The press is not there to do your public relations. You don’t publicise all your good deeds. How come your marketing genius is restricted to you getting coverage for mostly bling high-jinx?

KK: Most of you journalists pursue the lurid and headline-making events. You don’t care to know how many kindergartens I have provided blankets and food? All you know is that we gave the MKMVA R1-million for the cadres’ burial fund.

But you don’t even research what one has been doing in the communities. I come from a poor family. I know how it feels to be poor: none of those poor people love being poor.

It’s not sexy. You guys make it seem like a great political topic. It is, but practically it’s a hard life.

I try in my own little way to say: look folks, I care. If I had R100-billion, I would make sure all of poverty is eradicated. I’m serious.

M&G: You know that when you tell me you are living large and I see it as well, I am going to need to see your papers, and some proof of such claims, right? Too many before you have claimed to be millionaires only to find that they are ghetto super-flys who have stashed just a tidy amount not quite commensurate with their public lifestyles, right?

KK: I know that and I am not afraid of showing papers. We can even go to my house tonight, and you can check whatever you want to check.

(Although it was late in the night: 9.35pm, I called his bluff and took the offer to go check whatever documentation exists at his house. He showed me some, and told me a lot is at his house in the Free State. I told him I would love to go see more, within reasonable business and legal permission)

M&G: Is it true you are divorcing?

KK: That’s a pack of lies. Every relationship has its own ups and downs. Ours is no different. Go ask my wife if we are divorcing. There’s nothing like that.

M&G: Do you care about being “loved” or care about being “respected”?

KK: I don’t care for either. I won’t go seek them. Although if they come, I embrace them from whatever angle they come from.

M&G: You are highly visible in political events, have political friends such as Julius Malema, and have had a highly publicised presence at President Jacob Zuma’s daughter’s wedding. Do you consider yourself a political animal, a businessman or a showman?

KK: Like Jay-Z said, I am business, man! I am also a natural born entertainer. One of my favourite films is Scarface.

That scene where Tony Montana rocks to pick his boss’ lady with a rickety Valiant and she purred: “You came to fetch me with that?” And he says: “What do you want?” She says “a Porsche” and he says: “Come, let’s go get some Porsche.”

They drove to a Porsche dealership, just like that. He got his lady a brand new Porsche. Can you beat that, for entertainment value, huh?

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