The secretary-general of the newly-formed Patriotic Alliance (PA), is a presence on South Africa’s social scene.
This is the same man who spent a cool R2 million on his lavish 40th birthday party in 2010, when he publicly ate sushi off the body of a half-naked woman. The occasion catapulted him to the limelight and earned him the nickname “Sushi King”.
It also generated the impression that Kunene enjoys a comfortable lifestyle surrounded by luxury.
But one thing most people don’t know about this former schoolteacher: he grew up in abject poverty and lived in squalor in Kutlwanong in Odendaalsrus, Free State. “There were times when I would eat pap and jam for supper,” Kunene says.
He tucks into a plate of fried chicken and potato chips while seated on a couch on the veranda of his five-bedroom double storey mansion in Sandton, north of Joburg.
“I only ate rice and vegetables twice a month – on Sundays. We had no proper toilets and I used to take the bucket to the gate of our home every morning. The poverty I grew up in motivated me to work very hard and provide for my siblings.”
The sushi escapade also earned Kunene the wrath of suspended general secretary of the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), Zwelinzima Vavi, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and the ANC Women’s League. Vavi described the act as a slap in the face of the poor.
But Kunene is unrepentant. He vows to throw more parties after the May 7 general elections.
Despite living large and showca-sing his expensive cars to the public, Kunene vehemently refuses to disclose what he earns from his various business interests. He is currently involved in the mining, consulting and publishing industries.
“I will keep on enjoying life with my followers and I like making people happy,” he says. “My mission is to change the socio-economic mind-sets of the people. When you try to give me pain, I turn that pain into champagne.”
Asked whether he can cope with the attention he commands from the media and the public, Kunene says: “When you do something interesting, the media will chase you. I’m not hungry for publicity but the media is chasing me.”
One of the first things one notices in Kunene’s house is a collection of expensive whisky. It includes a bottle of 50-year-old Glenfiddich, which he says set him back a whopping R300 000.
Kunene, a divorced father of three, shares the house with his teenage son, daughter and her baby girl. He says he also looks after six other children of relatives, whose parents are “still alive but their circumstances are not conducive to raising their offspring”.
Kunene, a former ANC member with political credentials, is now making a mark in mainstream politics through the PA.
He joined the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in July last year, a week after writing an open letter in which he described President Jacob Zuma as a “monster” and a “tyrant”.
His stint at the EFF was dogged by concerns among some members who were sceptical of his political lea-dership, given his partying lifestyle. Kunene cut ties with EFF in August, despite Julius Malema’s pleas to EFF members to accept him, saying he had given up his sushi antics.
This former convict formed the PA in December last year with his business partner, Gayton Mckenzie, and registered the movement to contest the elections in Ferndale, Western Cape. He describes the organisation as a multiracial party targeting the Western Cape with the aim of wrenching the province from the DA in the coming polls.
“We are not only representing the coloured community, but all South Africans. We want to make sure that our people get the services they deserve because the ANC and the DA have failed to deliver.”