Ex-cons Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie said they have put their life of bling firmly behind them. And to show they have made a fresh start, the launch of their new political party, the Patriotic Alliance, in the Cape winelands this weekend, was a strictly no-frills affair.
With not a drop of champagne or sushi in sight, the only surprise the press had in Paarl was a room full of lime green T-shirts.
"If you see a blue wave, just look at it, because the blue wave is going to be swept away by the lime green of the Patriotic Alliance," said McKenzie, in reference to the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The unexpected arrival of the Patriotic Alliance on the political scene had until this week been a closely guarded secret, and it has been quietly registered for the 2014 national elections.
Kunene, who is the secretary general of the party's interim executive bureau, and McKenzie, who is its president, said they had been working quietly in the Western Cape for months to build the party. While the Patriotic Alliance claims to have its origins among the Coloured community, its leaders emphasised it is a democratic party open to all.
The Patriotic Alliance is currently being funded with private funds from Kunene and McKenzie, they said, and they will continue to look for backers.
McKenzie and the party's new candidate for premier Shirley-Ann Mouton dismissed with contempt speculation that the Patriotic Alliance could be a "junior ANC branch", designed to assist in trying to take back the Western Cape from the DA.
Mouton comes from Clanwilliam in the Olifants River valley in the Cedarberg, and she works for the local municipality in the administration section. Hoping to make a difference in people's lives, she said she is not yet giving up her day job.
Right now everything is being run on a tight budget, and members brought food for the conference lunch, she said. "We all paid for our own T-shirts, but they were cheap," she explained, while chatting beside the fountain outside the conference room. "The T-shirt and tag cost us R10."
Asked how she had come to meet Mckenzie and Kunene, she said they had visited the town and they had been taken by her "very straightforward" personality. "People's suffering is close to my heart," said Mouton. "I see poverty every day in the area where I live. This is our chance to say we as the Coloured people are not going to be a third spoke on the wheel. I was an ANC member until recently, but I saw it was only a colour game. It is still the case that the Coloured people are marginalised. They must wake up and smell the coffee because their time is here."
The lime green T-shirts had been chosen because it represented a "vibrant political party", said Mouton.
Meanwhile, police are said to wary of the Patriotic Alliance, and are concerned about its links to gangs on the Cape Flats. Major-General Jeremy Veary, who is responsible for policing gangsterism in the Western Cape, reportedly expressed concern about the party's connection to the 26s gang at a meeting on policing in Cape Town recently. McKenzie is close to Staggie, and has been seen visiting him at his place of work in Bellville-South while he is on day parole. Police are monitoring the Patriotic Alliance and a new breakaway political party, the Progressive Alliance, led by the man who is employing Staggie in his day job, Pastor Ivan Waldeck.
Yet despite tight security at the convention, McKenzie only had good things to say about Staggie. "Everybody was so fearful about the release of Staggie, but he is helping to bring peace to the Cape Flats," said McKenzie. After spending six years in prison for armed robbery, McKenzie was asked at the conference if he was still a member of the 26s gang. "I have long outgrown those numbers," he said.
Inside the conference room, which was hot and filled with supporters, McKenzie took the lead to explain the manifesto, which included a focus on unemployment and the youth, culture, heritage, and farming. Security guards manned the closed door. It was a small gathering of people, in a peaceful town, but security was tight.
"To give you a little bit of background. We are a group of people who came together and looked for another alternative for this country. We still believe that few in this country are willing to admit that we are on our way to war," McKenzie told the group. "We have seen calls being made for land to be returned. Whether we like it or not, young people are talking about wanting to take back land."
Patriotic Alliance leaders will eventually move into all provinces around the country, its leaders said. For McKenzie, who lives in Cape Town with his family, the Western Cape appears to be close to his heart, and political ambitions.
A big man with an outgoing personality, he is a celebrated speaker and runs a business giving motivational talks. The DA came in for a roasting from McKenzie at the launch of the party, as its supporters chanted "PA, PA."
'No mother gives birth to a gangster'
"We believe that an untruth has been spread that the DA is a clean no-nonsense fighter of corruption. It is only true when you go to Constantia," said McKenzie. "The further you move away from the mountain the clearer it becomes. The MyCiti bus only goes to affluent areas."
McKenzie said he had worked with Kunene to broker peace among gangs on the Cape Flats, which had been successful.
"We spoke their language. If children are dying of hunger and somebody gives them 10 tablets to sell, where is the choice?" he asked. "These people are human beings. No mother gives birth to a gangster."
Every day three or four people were dying in the Western Cape as a result of gang shootings, said McKenzie.
"But nobody speaks about it. Everybody says it is the best run city in the country. Maybe that is true, but to some people this means nothing. In some areas in the Western Cape there is no hope for you if you are a not a tourist. Cape Town is a haven for tourists, but it hell for those who live on the Cape Flats."
The Coloured people were the most marginalised community in the province, said McKenzie. "So we are forming alliances with people. We believe everybody should be chosen by the different communities. And everybody you see sitting here has been chosen by the people today."
Kunene said the birth of the Patriotic Alliance had taken place in the Western Cape for good reason.
"Sixty percent of our focus will be committed to the Western Cape for the purposes of this election, with the view of capturing the Western Cape. We are not contesting elections for seats," Kunene said. "We are contesting elections to capture political power so we can transform the lives of our people. The African National Congress has lost its political will to transform the lives of people. The DA has never had that political will to better the lives of our people."
Some injustices of apartheid had not yet been corrected, said Kunene.
"During apartheid, flats were built in coloured communities. And people who live in those flats have to pay rent. It is an injustice. The ANC when it was in power in the Western Cape could not correct that injustice. The DA government has not corrected that injustice," Kunene told the gathering who responded by shouting "PA, PA."
"People get traumatised when they see a pink slip because that means they will be evicted. We need to provide decent housing to our people and also to correct these injustices."
And just like that, the former King of Bling, who was once famous for his fast cars and wildly extravagant lifestyle, appears to have said goodbye to his old life.