King of Bling ‘stands for the truth’

Carly Ritz

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.

Kunene still has taste for controversy

Kunene still has taste for controversy

By Zama Nene

The King of Sushi, businessman and entertainer, Kenny Kunene, celebrates with VIPs and media at his first screening of his second season of So What, a reality programme on, at a Durban club.
Kenny Kunene was in Durban on Monday night – but there was not a naked girl, much less a serving of sushi, in sight.

The controversial businessman did, however, raise eyebrows when he provided miniature chocolate penises and vaginas in the press kits he doled out to his media guests.

Kunene was in the city for the launch of season two of his hit reality TV show, So What.

With him at the launch at Bellagio nightclub in Stamford Hill was his business partner, Gayton McKenzie, and some members of the show’s cast.

But all eyes were on Kunene, who was dressed in a grey ensemble with a pink bow-tie and his signature Louis Vuitton shades. Ever the showman, he took the opportunity to downplay rumours that he was broke, declaring: “I’m a hundred years from being broke ... and I will never apologise for celebrating my success.”

Kunene has come in for censure in the past for his his conspicuous consumption, including parties where sushi was served off the bodies of semi-naked women.

Two years ago Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, blasted Kunene for throwing a R700 000 party, saying he was spitting in the faces of the poor.

An unrepentant Kunene on Monday night said although he lived an ostentatious life, he was charitable, but not in front of the cameras, and that giving should not be a showpiece.

Kunene promised So What would be different from season one. “The business side of our life will come out, you will see our international travels and mentoring sessions,” he said.

The first episode, premiered at the club, saw him being driven in a Rolls-Royce, throwing a tantrum over a small helicopter and eating traditional food on a private jet.

Same old 'So What' mumbo

Same old 'So What' mumbo

With the second season of Kenny Kunene's reality TV show So What, premiering tonight, nothing about the first episode suggests that the second season will be better than the first.



The high life is still on show - drinking expensive champagne straight from the bottle, being driven around in the best cars and flying around in private jets - but is far from being original.

The opening sequence shows unfavourable TV headlines and newspaper clippings screaming: "Has Kenny's cash run out?", "Kenny's last sushi dinner" and "Zar to shut down".

He then spends the next few minutes fretting about an accident on the road to Lanseria Airport, where he has to catch his private jet to Durban to give a talk as part of a mentorship programme he runs with business partner and friend Gayton McKenzie.

Even though he loses his temper because he is late for the talk, he still has the time to turn down the first helicopter they find to take them to the airport because it's not big enough.

"For us, it's a normal arrangement. It's the same as a guy being left by his bus and then takes his car," Kunene says.

Once in the more spacious chopper, Kunene and hip-hop artist Hydro (signed to Kunene's record label, Nu Money) indulge in tripe, sheep's head and dumplings while McKenzie and his daughter Moloko have a vegetarian meal.

"Some will say I don't have class. What is class? If your class is defined by food, then you have a problem," Kunene explains.

He adds that when black people move to the suburbs they "start insulting our food".

From then on in, the episode is McKenzie and Kunene giving a bunch of teenagers gathered at the Bellagio Hotel in Durban a talk on "making it" in life.

Channel spokesman Matlapulana Ragoasha said this season would see Kunene undertaking more international business trips.

So What, whose first season was, according to the SA Advertising Research Foundation, watched by 1.4million viewers on average, moves to's 8.30pm slot on Mondays, which used to belong to Hlelo and Ntando Masina's reality TV show, Blame It On Fame.

Confusion as 'Sushi King' Kenny Kunene probed for fraud

Confusion as 'Sushi King' Kenny Kunene probed for fraud
GLYNNIS UNDERHILL Mar 23 2012 00:00
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Allegations that former convicts Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie defrauded poor Sowetan communities by persuading them to participate in a mining rights application for Central Rand Gold in Johannesburg are being investigated.

However, there is widespread confusion over the status of the police investigation.

The Mail & Guardian was reliably informed that the National Prosecuting Authority initially declined to prosecute the matter, although it denied the claim this week. The Hawks have conducted their own investigation into the accusations, but the NPA said it had not seen their docket.

"No one seems to know about this matter," said NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga.

But the NPA's asset forfeiture unit has now also initiated a probe, according to a source who is familiar with the details of the case. If the unit finds there is a case to be made against the two men, it can apply to the high court to seize their assets, which include a number of supercars.

This week Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela told the M&G that the unit had investigated accusations against Kunene and McKenzie involving the Central Rand Gold mining deal.

"We have done an investigation. However, our protocol doesn't allow us to give updates on ongoing investigations."

Sushi King is well-connected
Kunene, who served six years in jail for fraud, is well known for his ZAR nightclub in Cape Town -- the one in Johannesburg closed recently. He is regularly seen in the club and gained notoriety for eating sushi there off scantily dressed models, earning him the title of South Africa's Sushi King. His friends include members of President Jacob Zuma's family and influential ANC politicians.

By contrast, McKenzie, who spent seven years in jail for two counts of armed robbery, is a professed family man and prefers the quiet life, although he drives a Porsche and gives motivational speeches. He became friends with Kunene in jail.


The communities involved in the mining application are not going to let the matter rest. They believe they were defrauded because the two men solicited their participation in the gold prospecting and mining application with promises of jobs and contracts, which failed to materialise.

Godfrey Makomene, the leader of one of the communities, said they were on the verge of raising the money to hire lawyers to take their case to court. They had heard nothing about official investigations.

"The police have never interviewed us," he said. "We have not heard of any developments.

"We were offered a 10% stake in Central Rand Gold, which is recorded in its application for mining rights and the memorandum of understanding between us. We were promised jobs and contracts. But we got nothing."

Company raises billions
Thirteen communities signed the memorandum of understanding with Central Rand Gold as part of its mining licence application, which was accompanied by a social labour plan. The company raised more than R1-billion after listing on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges in 2007.

Central Rand Gold is currently embroiled in litigation over financial disputes with its empowerment partner, Puno Gold Investments.

Makomene said that, because the communities were poor, their complaints were being ignored.

Among the key allegations Makomene made was that community members were encouraged to open companies to make procurements and gain tenders. What happened to these companies should be of interest to the police, he said.

Kunene was given the title of executive of communities by Central Rand Gold and was put in charge of procurement, Makomene said.

McKenzie apparently held the title of chief corporate strategist for Central Rand Gold.

They were both reported to have earned huge salaries and were apparently given a R4-million bonus in 2009 for securing the mining rights quickly. The men have not worked for Central Rand Gold for the past 18 months.

Makomene said that since then 100 companies had been deregistered. He claimed they had been used for money laundering.

Locals haven't seen of social labour plan
Mark Diggars, a community leader who lives across a freeway from the Central Rand Gold mine, said the local people had not even seen the social labour plan, although it was said that it had been signed by community members without their knowledge.

"We are still waiting for our 10% shareholding," he said. "They are all just bluffing."

Neither Kunene nor McKenzie could be reached for comment and they did not respond to emails.

But both responded at length to emailed questions from the M&G last year about how they had acquired their wealth after leaving prison.

McKenzie said he had access to "investor capital worth millions of dollars".

"I am working towards my first billion. I will let you know when I get there."

McKenzie said he had gone from consulting on security concerns at Central Rand Gold -- "after all," he said, "who better to spot security weaknesses than an ex-bank robber" -- to advising the board on how to approach both the government and communities if they wanted to mine in Johannesburg.

Kunene said they had both become involved at Central Rand Gold as key executives. "The two of us played a strong role in the process of that mine applying for its mining rights."

Gold company 'going strong'
In late September last year, gold prospecting and mining company Central Rand Gold was forced to halt operations because of a decision by the minister of mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, to cancel its mining right.

According to the department, the company had violated two conditions relating to the mining work programme and its social labour plan.

This month, however, Central Rand Gold said the decision had been set aside by the court.

The company's chief executive, Johan du Toit, said it ran a "transparent operation", as a listed company was forced to do.

He said he was content with Central Rand Gold's progress, because it had increased its production by 60% in 2011, despite the temporary cancellation of its mining right. The company mines under Johannesburg.

Du Toit said Central Rand Gold was in the process of employing 225 people and the situation for the company had stabilised.

"Last year was a real tough year for us."

Du Toit said Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie had done "a great job" for Central Rand Gold in coordinating its social labour plan and he was not aware of a police investigation.

Du Toit confirmed he had lent Kunene R1-million to start up his ZAR nightclubs. But, he said, the "Sushi King" had repaid the money. -- Glynnis Underhill
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