Profile: Gayton McKenzie
After an extraordinary life of crime, prison and redemption, Gayton McKenzie is today one of the most well-loved and sought-after motivational speakers in the country and has addressed millions of school kids, parents and businesspeople with his hard-hitting, entertaining, engaging and inspiring talk. A deal to produce a film based on his biography has also been signed and filming will commence early next year. The success of the film will contribute to a drug rehab centre he is planning to build in the township where he grew up, and where he continues to do charity work for the children in the area.
He has worked with various corporate sponsors such as Chubb and Nike, and is the spokesperson for the JAG Sports and Education Foundation which is bringing hope to kids in underprivileged areas. Gayton is also the Group Executive for Central Rand Gold, where he is in charge of community participation and social investment.
Gayton McKenzie came to controversial public attention in 2002 when he and a small group of fellow inmates smuggled secret video cameras into Grootvlei Prison in the Free State province.
The motivation for this was Gayton’s shock at witnessing the nine-hour rape of a fourteen year old white boy. McKenzie, who grew up during Apartheid, and was classified racially as a "coloured", had entered prison as a racist. This event, one of innumerable rapes that he witnessed during his more than seven years in jail, changed his view. Corrupt wardens, who had sold the boy to a rapist gang, told McKenzie that there was "not enough proof" to do anything about the rape. This was in spite of the boy's physical appearance.
Gayton, who, until then had been a committed criminal, having entered jail for, among other crimes, bank robbery, and who was one of the prison's most senior gang members, turned his back on crime. The secret video footage showed numerous acts of warden corruption, including buying prison food, supplying drugs and liquor, smuggling a loaded pistol into jail and, finally, selling a juvenile for the purpose of sex to another prisoner, who was also part of the video team. When the footage hit national television, and was also screened internationally, McKenzie's team became known as the "Grootvlei Four". They were subsequently victimised in prison, with several attempts made on their lives. Three of the four men (other video makers' identities had been successfully kept secret) were finally released from prison after obtaining remissions of sentence for their exposure work. McKenzie went on to marry the advocate he met while still in jail when she was sent by the South African Presidency as a member of the Jali Commission tasked with investigating corruption in South African prisons.
After his release he went on a national campaign to combat ever-higher levels of crime in South Africa. His talks to school children were sponsored by a security company, and he is still serving as an advocate against crime. Thus far, he has reached 2 million South African school children of all ages. Thanks, in part, to his great exuberance and charisma, he was also voted the country's top corporate speaker for the last three years.
What Gayton offers as a corporate speaker:
Gayton’s talks examine the following themes, among many others:
His own personal journey and what led to his changed views on life
The legacy of crime in South Africa
The question of racial division in South Africa and how it can be overcome
The need for personal integrity and ethics
How to recognise your blessings
Reaching your dreams
How to turn your suffering into something that enriches you
Black Economic Empowerment
Gayton’s talks are extremely memorable because he shocks as much as he entertains, and he is always very entertaining. No one who’s listened to him can ever walk away quite the same person.