Hats off to SA football’s makarapa!

Watch any major South African football match, and two pieces of paraphernalia immediately stand out: one the now widely known vuvuzela trumpet, and the other the makarapa – the modified, decorated miners’ helmet unique to South African soccer fans.

After lengthy discussions with the 2010 Local Organising Committee (LOC), Fifa finally relented, opting to allow the vuvuzela and the makarapa to be wielded and worn inside the stadiums during the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup.

Now, the LOC, along with the International Marketing Council of South Africa (IMC) and South African Tourism, are actively encouraging South Africans to take up the vuvuzela and makarapa in order to give the events a distinctive local flavour.

The sound of the vuvuzela might take getting used to, the makarapa might get in some people’s line of sight, but there is no better way of creating that unique, energetic South African atmosphere during a soccer match.

A South African soccer supporter will spend hours adorning his makarapa with the logo and colours of his team, images of a favourite player, words describing the imminent downfall of the opposition, and embellishments such as giant sunglasses.

From protection to decoration

According to a 2010 Countdown programme broadcast by pay-television channel M-Net in January, Alfred “Magistrate” Baloyi – from an informal settlement near Edenvale, east of Johannesburg – made the first makarapa in 1970 to protect spectators from being hit by bottles.

“Gradually, while still keeping its original protective purpose, the helmet has evolved until today’s wearer carries the emblems and insignia of the various football teams, a favourite player, or the team’s mascot,” says Open Writing’s Barbara Durlarcher, a South African now living in Canada. “Evolving into a unique and distinctive piece of folk art, it has proved very popular with tourists and football aficionados.”

Baloyi hand-crafted his makarapas, but could only complete two a day, and therefore partnered with businessman Grant Nicholls to increase production ahead of the 2010 World Cup.

“Initially we spoke to Fifa,” Nicholls told 2010 Countdown’s John Webb. “We spent a lot of time registering the company and protecting the rights; we’ve managed to get an investor; we’ll shortly be opening a factory.”

The two have had numerous requests for their makarapa’s in the run-up to the Confederations Cup, and Baloyi told the programme he hoped it would be a similar scenario ahead of the World Cup.

Training crafters

Cape Town-based graphic designer Michael Souter started Makaraba Makoya as a community project, both to increase the helmet’s popularity and to train unemployed South Africans in making them.

“We are still a small company and are in the process of training people from the township communities on the Cape Peninsula in the art of designing and painting these hard hats,” Makaraba Makoya says on its website.

According to the company, manually cutting and trimming the hard hats is a difficult skill that its craftspeople work hard at perfecting.

Each final product “is a unique piece of sculptured artwork made from a builder’s hard hat – a true reflection of our hands-on, passionate South African soccer culture”.

Article last updated: May 2009

SAinfo reporter

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