Headgears set to rule world

Headgears set to rule world

Fans wearing brightly painted hats will be a familiar scene in S Africa

Headgears set to rule world

A worker at the makarapa helmet factory wears a US team fan hat. These hats are expected to become a global craze after the World Cup in South Africa. REUTERS

Dancing fans wearing the brightly painted hats made from converted plastic construction helmets, often paired with giant mock glasses, are a trademark of the South African game.

They are sure to be a major feature of Africa's first World Cup when it starts on June 11, together with the cacophonous blast of vuvuzela trumpets which may be a secret weapon against foreign teams unable to communicate through the din.

Former cleaner Alfred Baloyi, 52, invented the decorated helmets in 1979. A friend gave him a construction helmet for protection when watching his beloved Kaizer Chiefs soccer team, after a fellow fan was hit by a bottle.

Baloyi, an uneducated but talented natural artist, first started painting the helmets, then adding horns and finally using a box knife to cut out elaborate stand-up designs.
He calls himself "the Enemy of Plastic" although his nickname from the terraces is The Magistrate.

Baloyi, originally from northern Limpopo province, started selling a few at a time beside the road but his son and manager, Lovemore, 29, says they have since sold many thousands.

Alfred now shuns journalists, leaving his son to talk to visitors, and concentrating on helmet designs.

With demand booming for the humble invention ahead of the World Cup, they have opened a factory in the Wynberg area of Johannesburg where Lovemore says they are producing up to 80 makarapas a day. The Baloyis hope the exposure of makarapas during the world's most watched sporting event will turn the helmets into a global craze for international football fans.

The shelves of the factory are stacked with helmets for various South African companies and foreign fans, with Brazil, Germany, Spain and Italy the biggest customers.
Prices range from 250 rand ($33) for simple South African helmets to 1,500 for the more elaborate corporate or foreign designs.