The businessman chats to us about his upcoming new reality show, business interests and more.
Trying to pin businessman Kenny Kunene down is a hard but not impossible task. The self-proclaimed “king of sushi” is a very busy man and it takes days to finally speak to him. When we do finally get to chat, he tells me that he has spent hours in a meeting with politicians and although long, it was quite fruitful.
He has been lambasted for his attention-grabbing antics, praised for his display of wealth and slammed for his business decisions. Kunene’s personal and business life has graced many a tabloid and newspaper. Yet Kunene remains unfazed by all the attention, happily producing his reality shows and exploring unchartered business terrority. We chat to Kunene about his business dealings and career.
We hear you are finalising shooting the second season of So What. Tell us about how it went.
We just finished shooting the second season ofSo What. And have started shooting the pilot for my new reality show. My show is the most current in South Africa in terms of content. I believe in keeping it fresh, when things happen I want to be able to comment.
What is the title of the new show?
Well, we don’t really have a title yet, but it will be along the lines of Sushi Queen.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you were funding So What yourself. Does this mean you are funding production costs yourself?
I am not making any money from So What. I own the cameras, production team and cover the costs of travelling like when we went to Russia. I can’t go into the details of my contract with etv but the show was a platform for me to build relationships. Relationships are very important – it's through them that you can get a good deal, like buying a cheaper house or car etc.
How much did it cost you to fund So What from your own pocket?
I never really mention figures but I can tell you that So What is the most expensive reality show production South Africa has seen. The running costs for three months run into the millions. We are the first to bring you private jets, expensive cars, clothing and and trips. From a cost perspective, production for So What may be equal to that of local movies and feature films.
Have you found a network to broadcast Sushi Queen?
I’m looking at venturing out with the next series. I want the brand to go into Africa and Europe and international TV channels. The main target is overseas. I have identified someone in Nigeria who runs a network there and the plan is to speak to him about my show. Sky is not the limit anymore, space is.
Now we know that you have a healthy bank balance. What is your net worth?
I could be worth 500 million today and 1,5 billion tomorrow. I don’t believe in putting a value to such things. You know what they say: the moment you disclose such things, your wife could try to kill you for insurance purposes (laughs).
You spent years in prison. How did you find your feet and enter the world of business when you left prison? And what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I believe that hard work pays but luck also adds value. I must also say that it was through God’s mercy, it was truly a miracle what happened to me. One thing I told myself when I left prison was that I would never go back to crime. No matter what it took, I would not do crime again. So I worked as a teacher for 15 months earning R3 000 a month. Gayton (Kunene’s business partner) then left his company to join me, giving motivational talks at schools.
We took a big risk but we agreed that with commitment, we could do it. We then sold motivational books to more schools, tertiary institutions and companies. We sold many books and thought we could make a 100 million. Although we didn’t get that far, a billionaire bought 80 000 copies of our books and we made millions from that. We then bought four trucks and sold fish from the coast to inland areas. After selling that business we went into mining and had a business assisting mining companies to apply for contracts and licences.
You obviously took a big risk going into mining. Would you say it paid off?
Yes, I was born a marketer and although I have never studied the subject, I have been blessed to be mentored by Australians, Russians and and Americans. I have studied their way of conducting business. Gayton and I look for uncommon things to do. One of the best pieces of advice we received was from a man who told us that there is no millionaire who has not lost some money at some point. The challenge is to soldier on and not give up, but one must also know when it's time to quit.
Besides your reality show what other business projects are you working on?
We have signed an exclusive deal to bring a marquee structure which has never been used in Africa before. I love entertainment and events so the structure of this marquee will redefine exclusivity and entertainment in Africa. I am also a DJ now.
What business legacy do you intend to leave for your kids?
At the moment I believe in giving them lessons. They don’t have it easy. I’ve taught them that nothing comes easy. I don’t just give them money, they know they must earn it, explain how they have used it and be held accountable. I’ve told them that once they finish university then I will buy them a car, house and do a lot for them, only once they have proven themselves.
What business advice do you have for upcoming entrepreneurs?
Hapiness should be the most important element in all that you do, whether it's social, religious, business or relationship wise. One should also always think business. When I came out of prison I had R3 000 in my bank account. That money I saved up for through putting R20 or R100 in my account. Till today, people ask me why I have different savings accounts with different banks. For me saving will never end, from saving R3 000 today I can put as much as R1 million away and that is how I realise how successful I've become.
Kunene divorce ‘not about lifestyle’
May 19 2012 at 12:35pm
By Sameer Naik
He’s often surrounded by groups of beautiful women, he throws lavish parties worth millions of rands and is most famous for eating sushi off half-naked models.
But these aren’t the reasons that Mathatho is divorcing her millionaire husband, Kenny Kunene. Instead the Joburg businessman says that the two have decided to split after realising that “they have different visions in life”.
“My wife has given me a few reasons why she wants a divorce, but I can tell you that it has nothing to do with my lifestyle,” said Kunene.
Kunene broke the news on his reality TV show So What on Monday night. He said that although he had been left devastated by the divorce, he would continue to attend all obligations. “Life has to carry on I guess,” Kunene said in an interview with Pretoria News this week.
“I’m booked out until the end of July. Despite what has happened I plan to fulfil all my obligations and attend all my gigs, I cannot let my fans down .”
The 41-year-old, who has three children with Mathatho and has been married for 16 years, also denied rumours that his alleged affair with a young radio presenter was to blame.
He said he had informed his older children about the divorce. “Because they are mature enough, I have explained to them what has happened. “Obviously it’s very hard for them, but they are now old enough to understand.”
“However, I did not want to involve my seven-year-old daughter as she is too young to process all of this.”
Kunene added that despite his hectic schedule, he was able to take a day or two off to reflect on the divorce.
“One of the guys I work with even told me to take off a week.
Instead I took a day off and went elephant riding and go-karting in Nelspruit.
“It was the perfect way to take my mind off everything that has been happening.”
He said he was heartbroken when he received the summons from his wife’s lawyers.
“When I got the papers I felt very sad and down. It’s a very hard thing to process. But life has its ups and downs, and I have to accept it and just move on.”
Kunene added that his reality show had played no part in his divorce. “I may be seen with lots of ladies in my show but I can guarantee you that my wife had not divorced me for that reason.”
Meanwhile, he said he was excited about the opening of a brand new ZAR nightclub. Construction had begun in Kimberley.
However, Joburg would not be opening a new ZAR club as they had not found any appropriate venues.
“We are really excited about getting the ZAR up and running in Kimberley. Like I have always said, ZAR was never about the money but more about the people and the lifestyle, and Kimberley is the perfect place. Also I wanted a roof-top ZAR in Joburg, but could not find any. I am not willing to build a club on ground floor, so plans are on hold for the moment.”
He also revealed that his plans to import his own brand of vodka from Russia would still take time as it was a “difficult” process. - Pretoria News Weekend
Kenny Kunene ‘devastated’ about divorce
May 15 2012 at 12:36pm
By Marvin Adams
Millionaire businessman Kenny Kunene and his wife Mathato are divorcing.
The ex-convict playboy, who’s known for eating sushi off half-naked models, told a local newspaper that they have decided to split after realising that “they have different visions in life”.
Kunene broke the news on his own reality show So What? on e.tv.
The ZAR nightclub owner has denied rumours that started last year that his alleged affair with a young radio presenter is to blame for their separation.
And Kenny expressed sadness that his 16-year marriage has come to an end.
“I was so devastated when Mathato first told me her reasons she wanted a divorce,” he explains.
“I went for two weeks without even shaving my head and beard. But I accepted it, mainly because I knew she wasn’t divorcing me because she doesn’t love me any more.
“We are just at different places in life.”
Meanwhile, Kenny denies rumours that he’s run out of money.
“Just because we closed down ZAR, it doesn’t mean that money has run out. Right now I’m wearing a R15 000 pair of jeans and an R8 000 Gucci shirt,” he insists.
“I still travel on a private jet, as people can see on my show. I still drive my cars and I stay at my penthouse in Sandton.
“I finance my reality show and I bet it’s the most expensive local production and I don’t even get paid for that or get any revenue from it.” - Daily Voice
Posted by: CNN Correspondent, Robyn Curnow
KENNY KUNENE IN NEW YORK TIMES
Partying Amid Poverty Stirs South Africa DebateBy CELIA W. DUGGER
SANDTON, South Africa — Kenny Kunene, a former gangster turned businessman, gave what he called “the mother of all parties” for his 40th birthday. With his small paunch protruding from a white tuxedo and his eyes hidden behind Roberto Cavalli sunglasses, he ate sushi from the belly of a woman who was wearing nothing but black lingerie and high heels while hundreds of guests looked on.
As the revelers got tipsy on his liquor, he says he treated the most important among them — including Zizi Kodwa, President Jacob Zuma’s stylish spokesman, and Julius Malema, the rabble-rousing leader of the governing party’s youth wing — to $1,300 bottles of Dom Pérignon. Like the American rappers he emulates, Mr. Kunene himself swigged a bottle of Armand de Brignac Champagne that goes for more than $1,500 at his posh nightclub, ZAR, perched on the roof of a five-star hotel.
His October bash here in Sandton, a Johannesburg suburb often described as the wealthiest square mile in Africa, and another sushi-eating party that Mr. Kunene hosted recently in Cape Town, have turned him into a peculiarly South African sensation. His antics set off raucous bickering in the governing alliance about the conspicuous consumption of a politically networked black elite in a country where the majority of young blacks do not even have jobs.
Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of Cosatu, the powerful trade union federation allied with the governing African National Congress, accused Mr. Kunene of “spitting on the face of the poor” and declared that parties where people who have gotten rich in dubious ways flaunt their wealth “turn my stomach.”
Mr. Kunene, who says he supports the A.N.C.’s Youth League with his time and money, promptly retorted that his was “honest money spent on honest fun.” He describes his success as proof of the nation’s democracy, and he told Mr. Vavi, who is also black: “You remind me of what it felt like to live under apartheid. You are telling me, a black man, what I can and cannot do with my life.”
The Kunene story has crystallized a recurring question about life in post-apartheid South Africa: Is the accumulation and exhibition of such wealth a sign that blacks have finally arrived after an era when whites hogged the high life, or is it evidence of a moral decay undermining Nelson Mandela’s once great liberation movement?
“It raises in such wonderfully stark terms what freedom is and what one does with it,” said Jonny Steinberg, an author and one of the many newspaper columnists who commented on the events. “The idea that one uses it to get rich, and ostentatiously so, and that this is the most important dividend of freedom, is very powerful.”
In recent months, the spectacle of eating sushi from a woman’s body — perhaps familiar to Americans from Samantha’s escapades on “Sex and the City” — has been a source of both lurid fascination and ridicule here. A cartoon by the Mail & Guardian’s Zapiro, titled “The Last Sushi,” depicts a naked woman lying on a long table with well-known businessmen and politicians feasting on the fishy bits that decorate her curves.
That Mr. Kunene, a small-time player in South African politics, has vaulted onto the front pages underscores how salient the issue of economic inequality has become in South Africa, a country that by some estimates has the worst disparities of wealth in the world.
But the focus on Mr. Kunene, nicknamed the Sushi King by headline writers, is also a tribute to his obvious gifts for self-promotion and self-reinvention.
He was raised by his unemployed mother (an evangelical faith healer), his grandfather (a retired English teacher), and his grandmother (a midwife and the family’s only earner) in a black township outside of Odendaalsrus in what is now the Free State. The family could never afford to give him a birthday party, he said, and he always craved luxuries.
When he was a teenager during apartheid, he said he and his friends picked out the houses and cars in wealthy white areas they fantasized would one day be theirs. He dreamed of Porsches. “The objective was to overthrow the government and take everything that the white man had,” he said.
Like his grandfather, he became a high school English teacher. To earn extra money, he opened a small saloon, eavesdropped on gangsters and joined them, hijacking cars, robbing businesses and dreaming up ways to trick people out of their money, he said.
“My heart was not into armed robberies,” he said. “My heart was more into fraud because I’m a thinker.”
But he was caught and convicted in 1997 of helping run a Ponzi scheme. His case alone listed more than 1,900 victims, he said. He served six years in prison. After his release, he went into business with Gayton McKenzie, a bank robber he had befriended behind bars. They sold a book that Mr. McKenzie wrote about quitting a life of crime, and marketed Mr. McKenzie’s motivational speeches to schools and corporate groups.
They invested their earnings in a fish distribution business, Mr. Kunene said, and then started working as consultants to diamond and gold mining companies, helping manage testy relations with restive local communities and navigate the shoals of government regulation in a country governed by a black majority.
Last year, Mr. Kunene and Mr. McKenzie helped Gold Fields, a major gold producer, retain its mining rights to the South Deep mine southwest of Johannesburg, which the company describes as “one of the greatest undeveloped ore bodies in the world.”
“It’s a lot of political lobbying work,” explained Sven Lunsche, a Gold Fields spokesman.
At Mr. Kunene’s swanky apartment in Sandton, a snapshot of him with President Zuma is displayed in the living room. On his iPad, he flicked through photographs taken at his birthday party, showing pictures of him with the men he called “Zizi and Julius” — Mr. Zuma’s spokesman and the Youth League leader, Mr. Malema.
At the Cape Town party on Jan. 29, Mr. Malema was quoted as saying that Mr. Kunene’s club belonged to the A.N.C., but he later issued a statement insisting that he had said only that black people have a right to own a club in “predominantly white territory.”
Mr. Malema’s comments prompted Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary general, to starchily insist that the A.N.C. “is not into nightclubs or partying, but it is a revolutionary movement. We furthermore reiterate our condemnation to the act of serving sushi on a woman’s body.”
Kenny Kunene, Lil Kim and Fistaz Mixwell
Mr. Kunene this month bowed to his party’s wishes and foreswore sushi parties, but he could not resist noting that in South Africa, the rainbow nation, “I ate sushi off a black girl in Johannesburg. In Cape Town, I ate it off a white girl. I was intending to eat it off an Indian girl in Durban.”
Mr. Kunene has leapt into a life of fame and money, but often on Mondays he gets into one of his Porsches and makes the short drive to the poor and working-class township of Alexandra. “I don’t forget where I come from,” he said.
Kenny Kunene doesn’t apologise to anyone for his lifestyle. He has no regrets, except he never meant to disappoint his grandparents.
To the media and the public, Kenny Kunene is an Agner suit with Blue Label in hand – extravagant and over the top. But he was once just a boy who wanted to make his grandparents proud.
Raised by his mother and grandparents in Kutlwanong township after his parents divorced, businessman Kenny Kunene learned the value of hard work early. His grandmother was a midwife and his grandfather a retired teacher. To their grandson, they were heroes.
“In everything I have done in my life, I never meant to hurt them,” Kunene says, knowing his life is peppered with mistakes as much as it seasoned with success.
Kunene wears his heart on his sleeve and doesn’t mince his words. “I’m successful and I am entitled to celebrate.”
His anecdotes about his childhood tell the story of a boy with big dreams. His friends came from wealthy backgrounds and Kunene wanted in on the good life. He also wanted to wear the labels. But at home things were challenging. He grew up in a two-bedroom house with no electricity, no fridge or television. When it was hot, the fruit would be put in the coolest room in the house, on the floor, so that it wouldn’t spoil – a far cry from the man he is today with his fancy cars, expensive suits and bling accessories.
He ate pap and jam all the time. “Food is food”, his grandfather would say. He was a stern and logical man. “The reason we eat is so that we can have energy,” he would say. “You won’t be able to play if you have no energy and all the children will talk about you. When you go out after you have eaten pap and jam it would be as though you ate meat or chicken – no one will know, just don’t tell them.”
Kenny was a good student. The value of education was drummed into him early on and his peers came for help with homework. His teachers loved him and forgave him his sins when he stepped out of line.
His grandparents could not afford the fancy labels and told their grandson that if he wanted these things he would have to earn his own money. So that’s what he did.
His grandmother loaned him the start-up capital he needed for his small business – selling fruit at school during break. He would leave class five minutes before break to set up his stall. He made enough money to buy himself clothes and groceries for his grandparents. All they asked was that he repay the loan.
When his fruit business closed, he moved on to the taverns at weekends to clean up tables. He started DJing – music was always a passion – and running errands for illegal gold smugglers. They paid well.
Kunene followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and received a teaching qualification. But the money for his studies was not always available and he turned to petty crime. He would gun for the wallets of the “missus”, he explains. “There’s always money in the missus’ purse.” He was a hustler.
Kunene reflects on some of the lower moments in his life. “I stabbed a school teacher on a school trip,” he says. “I grew up fighting, so I carried a knife everywhere I went.” He should have been expelled, but his grandmother begged the school to keep him on. She bled for him, he says.
He reiterates that he never meant to hurt his grandparents – it’s the only tangible tinge of regret he shares. As she aged and became ill, his grandmother asked to see her grandson get married in her lifetime, so he dutifully married the woman who became pregnant with his first child.
The teacher, DJ and criminal put on a big white wedding for his grandmother and, two weeks later, she died. He is satisfied knowing he met her final request.
Family is key to Kunene and he will take on anyone who says otherwise. He talks about his time in prison from 1997 to 2003 openly, with the insight of a man who has had time to mull over it all. He has no regrets and is a better man for the experience, but his first comment about his time in prison is how difficult it was.
Kunene is a father of three, but cares for six children in total. His team of boys and a seven-year-old daughter live in his home in Welkom and he sees them regularly. He has a special relationship with his Grade 12 daughter, who lives with him in Sandton.
“I will not plan my kids’ lives, I can only guide them, but they know the rules,” Kunene says. “My daughter knows that if she falls pregnant, she must pack her things and the man must take care of her. Being a father of daughters is difficult.” It’s a hard line, but he only wants the best for his children.
“My daughter calls me Robert Mugabe,” he laughs. “She says there is no democracy in the house. If you saw the phone my daughter carried, you would not think she is Kenny’s daughter.” The world is not served to his children on a plate. He wants them to learn the lessons he did, to work for things they want in order to truly value what they have.
Kunene has always had a good rapport with youngsters and when he spent time in prison he was asked to offer counselling to the juvenile inmates.
“Prison is the house that made me,” he says. “I have no regrets for going to prison.”
Always the socialite, he threw parties in prison to boost the morale of the inmates.
The Bible presented itself to Kunene in prison. Now a born-again Christian and spiritual man, he is often hauled over the coals for his lavish lifestyle in the face of the poor. To the naysayers he responds thoughtfully: “The Bible says all of us are sinners and those who say they are not are making God a liar.” He doesn’t profess to be righteous and admits to mistakes. But where in the Bible does it say we must be poor, he asks. “I don’t make money to give it away. I make it to enjoy the finest things in life. I never had them, but always wanted them.”
He watched movies and wanted the lifestyle reflected on the screen. “The reason I am driving a Porsche is because of Scar Face,” Kunene says. “I watched it years back on VHS and this man, Al Pacino, who comes from Cuba, tells his friend I am not in America to wash dishes. He becomes a drug dealer. I don’t give a f@%^ what he becomes, but it’s his vision that I understand and I always said one day I would drive a Porsche – it was a dream.”
He hates being called a black diamond. “It’s an insult,” Kunene says. “The reason black people are called black diamonds when they make it in life is because Europeans always perceived us as slaves – destined to be poor – so the one who makes it must be rare, like a black diamond because they made it beyond expectation. You don’t hear about yellow diamonds or pink diamonds.”
Kunene has also been accused of degrading women – a statement at which he scoffs. “I am not degrading to women,” he says. “I love women. Show me that I am raping women or beating them up.”
There is one special lady in his life. But he won’t say who it is. “I don’t like going into very private things, but I will say every woman in my life is special to me.”
He doesn’t like talking about his philanthropic efforts either because that’s what everyone wants him to do – like he’s justifying his lifestyle – which he won’t, but, together with business partner Gayton Mackenzie, Kunene runs business mentorship programmes. He visits schools to talk about the dangers of crime and drugs. He shares his personal experience and story of upward mobility with the pupils who can relate to and are inspired by him.
Highly critical of local media, Kunene has had his fair share of bad press. Now he runs his own website, which he expects will rival newspapers. “Every journalist in this country will check my website for news because it will carry news that no one else will have – and about everyone.”
“Media in South Africa do not have balls. Some people are considered too powerful to write about. Media in this country is so biased. My website will have information about these people. News that will shock this country. I have given the team one mandate: to get the website up and running. I want to see a million views by the end of 2012.”
So who is Kenny Kunene in his words? “I’m a normal guy who stands for the truth. In everyone’s life there is something that can inspire you – we can learn so much from each other. Take what is good from each and every person that you meet – even if it is a hobo or a madman – there is something to learn from everyone and don’t judge.
The luxury cars and whisky existed before Kenny Kunene and will last long after he’s dead, he laughs.
Yes he’s a wealthy man with a dark past and penchant for pleasure, but he’s also just a dad worried about his daughter falling pregnant and a grandson who never meant to disappoint.