Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
The first impression that Laurent Dansikpe makes, is of a man who truly believes that his body is his temple. The same applies to his West and Central African mates who are all musclemen in search of a better life in South Africa.
Following in the footsteps of businessmen, bodybuilders from around Africa plan on cashing in during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. But just how do they intend to capitalise on this unique opportunity?
“I came to South Africa in July 2009 looking for new opportunities to market my physique, which is in high demand, particularly in developed countries. But I never managed to obtain a visa to travel to those countries. Therefore, the World Cup being hosted here in South Africa creates a platform for me to display my abilities and skills, and hopefully score great contracts. With this large and fit build, I could be an efficient bodyguard or a ferocious security agent. Those are actually the kinds of jobs I have been doing ever since I arrived in this country, whilst looking forward to meeting the large crowds coming for this great event,” Laurent explains.
This 28-year-old bodybuilder from Benin has a background in computer maintenance, but quit his job to devote himself to bodybuilding. “My mother was the one almost forcefully encouraging me to pursue the academic path, as she values education more than sports. But today she understands that success lies in excellence,” Laurent says, adding that during the World Cup he hopes that his dreams will come true.
Hollywood movies remain extremely popular on the African continent. Great Hollywood musclemen actors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone have a cult following among African children. As one such child, Laurent passionately emulated his movie heroes, and he decided to practice martial arts to, “set myself apart from my friends during our leisure time. I wanted to be that actor who could overpower everyone”.
However, as years went by, his ambition morphed into something more concrete and more conscious, as all his friends, both at school and at home, began to emulate him. He soon became the Bruce Lee of his generation. But in African society, musclemen are often badly seen and even called names.
In the 1990s, the then President of Côte d’Ivoire, Félix Houphouët Boigny, in his fight against crime and delinquency, created employment opportunities for Ivorian bodybuilders. Such dispositions followed a probe into crime, which revealed that most criminals in the country were musclemen. The same perception prevailed in Benin and Togo, where Laurent experienced it first hand.
In South Africa, where he has been living for almost a year, some of job offers he has received tend to prove that these erroneous perceptions exist here too. “There are people who approach me with an offer to work with them. However, the services required from me usually revolve around using my muscular body for intimidation. Others want to know if I can operate fire-arms.”
Laurent Dansikpe currently has a black belt in Taekwondo and has won numerous medals in various tournaments in Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and South Africa. Since he moved to South Africa, he has had access to training equipment that was not available in his home country.
He lives in Kempton Park, two kilometres away from Johannesburg’s international airport, OR Tambo. He trains there at a gymnasium for R250 ($34) a month. “I have no problem paying that much, given that I earn R750 (around $100) weekly as a bouncer. However, the potential spoiler is the rigorous diet associated with bodybuilding. I have to eat five to seven times a day, at regular two to three hour intervals. These meals need to be rich in glucose, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Added to all this are the chemical supplements, which can almost be categorised as medication.”
Laurent invests in his business, and his body, hoping to reap great benefits.
Chief among arguments against South Africa’s bid to host the World Cup was the issue of security. In order to prove its detractors wrong, South Africa invested heavily in this field. The sharp increase in security companies’ hiring figures illustrates promising progress in the field.
But how can an individual, an immigrant bodybuilder, seize this opportunity? Laurent explains that he approaches numerous security agencies and bodyguard companies. It is not easy for him to find work, despite his vast network of sources. “At times I have to knock on doors offering to sell my physique or alternatively get tipped by colleagues or even receive direct job offers from interested parties. Even so, the challenges remain considerable, as some offers, which I always turn down, tend to lean towards the illegal and immoral.”
Until Laurent finds the right job, he has to be content with the petty cash he receives as a bouncer, standing in front of nightclubs, taverns, and showrooms.
Laurent mentions frequent shootouts in this gun-crazy country, but is phlegmatic that, “there is no risk free job”.
Laurent’s friends certainly share his perspective, as they work in the same field. Avith Adjovi, another Beninese living in Sandton and a graduate in Town Planning, confides: “I wanted to earn a living through sports. I could not thrive as a basketball player due to limited resources. Therefore I built my chest and developed my muscles in order to better meet the commercial requirements of bodyguard or bouncer. The World Cup will undoubtedly bring us more exposure and a market for those who would need our services. I already have job offers for the soccer festival and will probably choose the most financially rewarding. I am certain that this World Cup will propel me to high places.”
Alain, a Congolese man who has been living in South Africa for the past seven years, has the same expectations. “I want to be able to finally afford my own car, as I have been here for seven years and employment opportunities for musclemen will considerably increase during the World Cup. I currently work at a nightclub in Johannesburg that will be open seven days a week during the world soccer spectacular. This will obviously translate into more income for me as well as new opportunities for bodyguard contracts.”
Just like retailers who display their goods on shelves, inciting desire in clients, musclemen dress in a manner that exposes their impressively muscular bodies.
“For the moment, I only work over the weekends and the rest of the time I network in large public areas. I go to the most visible place with large crowds, dressed to reveal my muscles,” Laurent says.
In Sandton City, an uptown area in Johannesburg, Laurent seems to be a celebrity. Many approach him to inquire about his impressive fitness and some even hand him details of people seeking to employ musclemen.
“I regularly use Facebook to display my impressive physique. I will also show up now and then at the airport, as tourists are pouring in for the World Cup.”
All of this is engineered to ultimately reap the benefits of a historic World Cup on African soil.
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