First Published in
In just over a year's time, the world stands to be introduced to South Africa's unique soccer culture. Michael Souter, a Fine Art-trained graphic designer, is adding to this with his “makarabas” (sculpted hard hats), which fuse urban culture, design and sporting passion.
Saffers have been wearing hard hats to soccer matches for more than two decades now - fans having adopted them to protect themselves from flying bottles! But after an enterprising Kaizer Chiefs fan decorated his helmet to show support for his team, rival fans took up the challenge and the makaraba was born. “The word 'makaraba' is a Xhosa variation of 'makarapa', which literally means 'migrant worker'. These workers were known by their safety hats as they were predominantly miners,” explains Souter.
Fascinated by the concept, and inspired by an Orlando Pirates-Ajax Cape Town soccer match he went to, Souter began working on a series of sculptures capturing the colourful dynamism and bizarrely heraldic value of the fans' hats-turned-statements. The safety hat, sourced from local hardware suppliers, is the core of Souter's sculptures. He then makes some sketches, creates templates from cardboard and uses the polypropylene plastic helmet to build a firm “silly hat” that is then primed and finally painted with enamel paint.
“I've had interest from as far afield as Europe and orders for English soccer teams like Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea,” he explains. “These hats are very much part of South African culture, but they are also mobile billboards - and the limits of what can be done with them are defined only by imagination. Whichever team you favour, you can express your individuality and support.”
Souter has even made headgear for corporate gifts and fulfilled commissions for TotalSports and Anglo Coal. He also supplied models with makoya makarabas for the 2006 Nokia Cape Town Fashion Week. Nonetheless, he prefers to sees his hats as art, not merchandise, as they are individually made and mass marketing production of the same style would undermine their quirky value.