Why the makarapa will be this year's underground hit

So far it has been the vuvuzelas making all the noise in South Africa but it's another icon of local football culture that's been attracting the connoisseurs. Despite sounding like a bad latin dance, the makarapa is so much more than the sum of its parts – a plastic miner's hat and some paint.

It is the product of a moment of genius not unlike Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity. For Newton, the eureka moment came with an apple falling. For Alfred Baloyi, it came in Orlando stadium as he watched rival fans rain bottles on fellow Kaizer Chief fans.

"I saw the bottle hit someone on the head and I thought I should get a hard hat," he said. A dedicated Kaizer Chief fan from the Primrose squatters camp who made his living washing buses, he got one from a friend. He wore it to the next game and the makarapa was born.

Mr Baloyi, who always had an artistic streak, decided that his protective gear looked a bit drab so he decided to paint it in the colours of his beloved team: orange and black. Still not satisfied, he painted the team badge as well. It was an instant hit. "People wanted to buy the hat straight off my head," he recalls.

While rugby and cricket were the passions on the other side of the apartheid divide, football was the game of the black townships. In the mining heartland of Johannesburg thousands of men would turn out each week in their work overalls to watch the game.

Demand for the colourful headgear soon meant that Mr Baloyi was able to quit his job cleaning buses and become a full-time artist. Bored of only painting the helmets, he decided to experiment with cutting and bending the plastic into sculpted shapes. First up were fingers making the victory sign. After that everyone had their requests. "People were always asking for new things. Whatever the people wanted I made. The ideas come like this, the fans give you ideas."

It was two equally football-mad friends of his, "Saddam" and Mguyo, who came up with the other parts of South Africa's trinity of football paraphernalia – the vuvuzela and the giant sunglasses. The blaring horn which has divided opinion in advance of this World Cup is too much for Mr Baloyi. "To me the vuvuzela is too loud but the people like it," he says.

Now 53, the artist has become a trademark in his own right. The tin shack workshop in the squatter camp has been traded for a studio in the upmarket business district of Sandton. He has made makarapas for presidents, pop stars and even football's world governing body, Fifa. "It changed my life really," he says sitting on the step outside the Baloyi factory. "My children are good now. I built a house in Limpopo for my family."

And for a man who made his living hawking his creations from the roadside and travelling in mini-bus taxis, it has brought another change: "I got a car now, " he says with a broad smile.

While the Fifa president Sepp Blatter has been called many things – not all of them kind – Mr Baloyi is gushing in his praise. Wearing a helmet of his own creation he has a portrait of the sports bureaucrat as the centrepiece, with the legend Thabiso – which means "happiness" in isiZulu. "He is the one who decided to bring the World Cup. It has changed my life and – all the people in there," he says, gesturing at the studio , "it changed their lives. That's why I call him Thabiso."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Buyer / Planner

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity has ar...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Manager

£40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity working ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Journals Manager

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The prime focus of the role is to assist...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks