Michael Trapido
Michael Trapido

An hour with Gavin Varejes

Daily we are confronted with traumatic events that redefine our lives and bring home the sombre realisation that many things are beyond our control: 9/11, tsunamis and the unavoidable encountering of Sharks supporters.

When the genius concerned lists the day the Sharks won the Currie Cup for the first time at Loftus Versfeld among his lifetime highlights, then the penalties for murder become vastly overrated.

It’s bad enough listening to him waffling on about how the Sharks are going to win everything from the Currie Cup to the Super 14 without having to be shown every sporting memorabilia ever manufactured by the Sharks and, far worse, Manchester United. This wenner collects them!

But in his defence Gavin Varejes is also the president and founder of the South African Rugby Legends Association, and the work it is trying to achieve, while not excusing the above, is certainly worthy of our attention.

I popped along to his Sandton office, staggering under the effect of the antihistamines (which seem to work when he mentioned the Sharks but not Man U(re); there you need Valoid and a series of electro-convulsive therapy shocks) to find out what makes him tick.

It’s not pretty :

Traps (T): Before we start, Gav, you have an incredible collection of sporting and other memorabilia on the walls here.

Gavin (G): It is not only my hobby; it’s a passion. It’s the largest collection of its kind in the southern hemisphere. I even have the pen with which Madiba signed the interim Constitution in 1993 and two personalised copies of the first edition of his Long Walk to Freedom.

(T): Yes, but you also have tonnes of stuff from Man U(re) and the Sharks.

(G): Of course, I’m a huge fan.

(T) How do these people feel about working in a building which the health inspectors will condemn as soon as they see all that garbage hanging on the walls? I mean, what is the point of people hiring buildings in Sandton if they’re going to lower the rentals by conducting themselves like this?! Anyhow, tell me about the early years.

(G): I was born in Durban in 1957. My mom was a teacher and my dad a pharmacist. I’ve got two brothers, Kenny and Clive. I went to school in Durban.

(T): Did you play any sport?

(G): Mainly rugby and water polo. From an early age I also did a lot of surf lifesaving, which was not only a sport but became something of a lifestyle. We used to live on the beach, learning about all the different types of crafts, and Sundays there were competitions.

(T): After school?

(G): I went to the army where I majored in water polo and lifesaving. Straight after the army I was back on to the beach until my father told me I’d better go and study something.

(T): What did you do?

(G): I started with teaching but ended up doing a marketing diploma at Durban University. Did I tell you I started karate at age 15?

(T): Why? Because I keep telling you how crap your teams are?

(G): No, because it’s a great stress release. Teaches you self-discipline.

(T): What did you do with your diploma?

(G): I started in Durban with selling photographic equipment, but the grey market killed us. Then, when I was about 24, I moved to Johannesburg and within a week it snowed there.

(T): How do you feel about climate change?

(G): It’s very important to be aware of the factors affecting the envir …

(T): No, I mean since you’ve arrived in Jo’burg we’ve been getting snow and the weather’s been miserable. What else did you do with that diploma?

(G): I met Jo Ann, my wonderful wife, and we’ve had two great kids: Cayli, my daughter, aged 15, and Trent, who is now nine years old.

(T): Where’d you guys meet?

(G): In Hyde Park at a coffee shop. She’s been amazing — we got married in 1990 and she’s turned our house into a very busy home. Friday nights we have about 25 people over, and the kids love it — we have a games room, which is like an arcade.

(T): Business-wise?

(G): I went into the home shopping market then later moved into IT development, air time, property, annuity-based revenue and a variety of other areas, many of which are geared towards the GSM industry.

(T): Tell me about the South African Rugby Legends Association (Sarla).

(G): After winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations, we became aware that if anything will unite people it’s sport. So we decided to launch a body that ties charity and sport together, mindful of the part it has to play in social awareness.

(T): How do you see our country’s future?

(G): What an amazing place we live in. I love South Africa, and even though I’ve had many offers to go live abroad, I never even contemplated leaving. I believe it is vital that we build on what the new democracy has afforded us and just as important share our wealth with other African countries. The region as a whole needs our input, in the interests of all.

(T): And Sarla?

(G): Sarla started out as a type of Harlem Globetrotters, playing benefits and aiding charities. I believe in heroes — not only the guy with the money, [but also] the guys who give of their time, of themselves to make a difference. The response has been incredible.

(T): But this has evolved.

(G): Yes, we became aware of a project called the São Paolo Street Kids Project. Something like 800 000 street kids have been through the Brazilian model. It entails bringing the children into contact with the authorities while learning about sports and life. We are putting our programme together with government bodies and the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

(T): How will it work?

(G): It will see the creation of what we call Legacy Parks, the first of which we believe will be Joubert Park. At these parks kids will be coached, learn about things like Aids awareness and be given a meal. They will see that authority is not only there to enforce rules but also to provide benefits. It will involve legends from all sporting codes, not just rugby.

(T): You do a huge amount of charity work.

(G): This is not about me. The project is looking to unite a privileged school with two or three underprivileged schools whereby books and equipment can be passed down. In other words, to assist these schools in both sporting and academic areas.

(T): How are you funding this?

(G): It’s a combination of players giving of their time, government aid, charities and sponsors like Elan, @tlantic Internet, Southern Suns, Budget, Mitre, McCarthy Toyota and SA Breweries. But everyone can participate — just give of your time.

(T): Who is involved with you on the executive?

(G): People like Rex Tomlinson, Gary Teichman, Keith Andrews and Professor Andy Andrews. We also have former Scottish and Springbok hooker John Allan who is a driving force behing Sarla – provided we can keep him away from French fullbacks during Sarla games!

(T): Do you have a hero?

(G): I have a couple — Madiba is definitely number one, and in business Vodacom’s Alan Knott-Craig. He made “Shake my hand, it’s a deal” mean something.

(T): If you could be anywhere tonight, where would that be?

(G): Home with my family. I spend as much time as I can there.

(T): Hopefully none of them have had hypothermia what with all the snow that seems to follow you. Your favourite drink?

(G): Tequila — the Mexican drink.

(T): Fewer Mexicans have been drinking it since Adrian Gore’s been crashing into them while running up and down the fire escapes in America. Movies?

(G): Shawshank Redemption, and I love Boston Legal. My staff call me Denny Crane.

(T): That’s to your face since they found out you support the Sharks; they’ve found others, you just haven’t been made aware of those yet. Restaurant and food?

(G): Seafood at Harrisons on 12th.

(T): Thank you for taking the time to see me.

(G): My pleasure.

Sarla is a very worthwhile endeavour and part of what we need to support if we are to build on the success of RWC 2007.

As I left the building in dark sunglasses (millions of Man U(re) and Sharks memorabilia to negotiate), I realised that this time the government, business and rugby are serious about reaping the benefit of our successful campaign.

Get your hands dirty — play your part in sport in building the bridges that this country desperately needs: if not in Sarla, whatever small part you can play.

The rewards will astound you.

  • geezer


    I also had the misfortune of going into that building. My doctor says that the rash i got from the Man U and Sharks memorabilia should subside in about a year from now. He prescribed some form of Blue Bull Dust cream and said it works wonders for this kind of affliction.

    I agree with Gavin, sport unites people. If only you had had the fortune of being on the M1 or in Rosebank (which was not so Rosie after all) on the day the Bokke drove through there, you would have realised how united we all were. I couldnt move my car for the traffic jam it caused….so united were we that my mirrors got knocked off (and the “knock off” wasnt by some cheep chinese import either).

    Seriously I think we need more business initiatives that uplift the community and I take my hat off to guys like Gavin who roll up their sleeves and get involved.

    Of course I cant roll up my sleeves as the rash I got looks really bad.

  • Warren

    Dear Mr Traps

    Your interview with Gavin Varejes contained certain serious mistakes. For the sake of clarity, MAN U and the Sharks are real teams. The last I knew is that some obscure team called Derby had to employ someone from SA to promote them as anybody who dares to support them at home, runs the risk of being lynched. You will always find a sucker!

    I personally know Gavin and can attest wholeheartedly that he is a little bit more than just a sports fan and philanthropist. Gaving Varejes is a lot of things to a lot of people and plays a vital role in the business community in SA. He is a man of the highest integrity and the feeble attempt by some fringe publication to attempt to assassinate his character for ulterior motives and forces, deserves nothing more than a match to the paper it was written on.

    You should focus your attention and writing and legal skills to address what constitutes true freedom of speech and where one draws a line.

    PS – Never start with a man who buys ink by the barrel – then again you only got a computer.

  • traps

    Just to put Geezer in some sort of perspective – He is one of the funniest guys around.

    Every day he does a fashion report on the clothes being worn at the office – hysterical.

    Just a word on your rash – I trust it places higher than the last one, when you returned from…but I’ve said enough already.

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  • Michael Trapido

    Varejes keeps Jake White in South Africa – where he should be.


  • Mark

    Are you guys stupid? Man of integrity? hahaha. Re-evaluate your relationships. People are so gullible it’s scary.

  • geezer

    Dear “Mark”

    It is clear that the re-evaluation of our “relationships” needs to occur specifically when we admit to being associated with a Sharks and Man U supporter (that rash just is not improving at all). The differential between people like you and I is that I take a stance (and very vocally despise Sharks and Man U fans) regarding the future of this country and where I can, I set about acknowledging that which is good and promoting that which gives us hope, I do(sounds like wedding vows and thats worse than MAN U). Folk like you on the other hand ( not the way NAAS says it) prefer to sit on the side lines, do nothing and level criticism at those who do. Let me ask you “Mark”, where have you made your “mark”in South Africa other than in the “bitching and moaning championship” whilst sponsored by “Fatties and Moanies”. Get out from behind that screen and keyboard of yours and show us all that you too are able to contribute positively!!!!!!!

  • Mark

    Dear “Geezer”

    I think you misunderstood completely or you are not very well informed. I was referring to Gavin Varejes and the fact that he is an alleged common crook.

    Shadowy friend of Jackie Selebi caught in the web and accused of having a corrupt relationship with the top cop.

    Embroiled in the R250-million collapse of Tigon but emerged unscathed.

    Varejes heads a company called Richmark Holdings, involved in security, IT, property and communications.

    He is also a close friend of Andrew Phillips, owner of The Ranch and Titty Twisters strip clubs (which were raided by police and seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit).

    Selebi has holidayed at Verejes’s coastal development, Uvongo Falls. Verejes claimed Selebi paid for the holiday,

    Verejes’s company also arranged a 2003 holiday to Mauritius for Selebi’s family – which Selebi allegedly paid for.

    So…. I meant that Michael Trapido must re-evaluate his relationship with Verejes and all the adulation poured out on these pages need to be read in a new context.

  • Jason


    I would gladly put my life on the line by stating that one the many deeds Gavin Varejes has done for homeless, orphans, the poor, the disabled etc. you have not even thought about.

    You are too dim witted to realize how this man has contributed to this country and the millions of people that are part of this rainbow nation.

    I Proudly say on my own behalf that you will never be a fraction the man Gavin is.

    When Gavin is convicted of shop lifting or any petty theft, I will listen to your jealous words and allow you to humiliate myself.

    So do me a favor and stop being a selfish snob and predicting facts that you have no idea about.


  • Mark

    Dear Jason

    I am glad you would put your life on the line for Gavin Varejes because I would not.

    I may be dimwitted in your opinion but at least I can spell. Before you make a fool of yourself in public please do your homework and some research ans use a spellchecker. It was designed for people like you. It is time that someone invents a logic and emotional intelligence checker. They will have lots of customers. They can even make an iPhone application. Won’t that be cool!

    You don’t know me so you can’t make any comments about what kind of man I am. I predicted nothing, only commented on what has been widely published, and discussed at Jackie Selebi’s recent trial.

    I gather that you are about as adept at reading as you are at writing. It’s called a newspaper.

    Another gullible fool.


  • Jaaon

    I speak 7 languages fluently.
    English being my 3rd.
    So be quick to judge Others. Seems to be something you are not too skilled at. Stop judging people Mark, you will get no where in life.

    Say what you want about Gavin, he is one of the great.

  • Mark

    Whatever…. I am bored with this subject.. and with you.

  • Alwyn

    Gavin Varejes is a great man like few others. I can personally attest to his selfless contribution to improving the lifes of less fortunate, without EVER asking anything in return. If there ever was a great man Gavin Varejes is it! As the saying goes “Die hoogste bome vang die meeste wind”

  • http://exclusiveauto.co.za WESSEL JENNER

    Gavin, you make this world a beter place! thx

  • Gwen

    Gavin Varejes- you are a great man! Thank you for helping so much.
    Very nice interview…