Off The Record


March 2024

From 'Zama-Zama' to Grade 1 Owner: Stinky Pooe's Inspiring Story

Purple Pitcher showed gritty determination in his beating of Sandringham Summit in last Saturday’s TAB SA Classic over 1800m at Turffontein. With this, he made SS Pooe South Africa’s newest Grade 1 winning thoroughbred racehorse owner, and rewarded him with a whopping R937,000 purse.

Purple Pitcher (Kabelo Matsunyane) was two lengths clear going up the notorious Turffontein hill that precedes the home bend. He brought the field into the straight at a steady clip. As the pacemaker in top-level company, he was probably going to throw in the towel within the next 300m, a victim of the toughest 1800m in South Africa. With 400m to run, Purple Pitcher was, indeed, headed by his first challenger, William Iron Arm. However, at the 300m-mark he regained the lead and persevered, tenaciously. Star colt Sandringham Summit quickened from off the pace and moved in for the ‘kill’ at the 150. But he found a rival who simply refused to let go of his lead. Purple Pitcher won by half a length, convincing enough to say there was no luck involved. This was a meritorious success.

Asked how he felt when Purple Pitcher fought back when Sandringham Summit was looming, the smartly-dressed Pooe told post-race interviewer Cecil Mthembu: “Once he hit the front I knew it was over, they weren’t going to catch up. He’s a stayer, we waited for 1800m for a long time and in the next one (SA Derby), he’ll have a big chance.”

Pooe is the embodiment of what South African racing needs more of – affluent black individuals who love owning horses and betting on them. He is a quiet and reserved gentleman, but always approachable, and enthusiastic when asked about his background. His life story is marked by the same guts and perseverance so beautifully displayed by his Grade 1 winner.


Pooe’s rags-to-riches journey started on 2 February 1957 in Charterson, a small ‘location’ near Nigel on the East Rand. He was named ‘Stinky’ at birth – to clear up the confusion for those who consistently make the other connotation. He said: “ ‘Stinky’ is my birthname. It is an African name that means ‘small diamond’; it was not a nickname given to me as a result of my surname. I only became aware of the meaning some people ignorantly attached to it, later in my life, when I was already doing business. I’ve always just laughed it off.” And, for the record, his surname is pronounced, ‘Po-Weh’, not ‘Poo-wee’!

His mother was an orphan, and Stinky himself grew up without a father in a period of protests, political upheaval and extreme hardship for people of colour. In 1957, South Africa was led by Prime Minister JG Strijdom. It was the very year in which the much-dreaded ‘Pass’ laws were introduced for black women. They were forced to carry an identification ‘pass’ at all times, needed police permission to be in white suburbs after dark and faced arrest and even torture if they failed to adhere to requirements.

He recalled: “My mother worked as a domestic at Nigel High, which was a whites-only boarding school. The domestic workers were called ‘maids’ in those days. She cleaned the classrooms and offices every day and did all the other chores required, including cooking meals for the boys.”

The Pooe family was forced to resettle to the township of Duduza, 30km away from Nigel, because Charterston was considered by the government to be too close to a white town. ‘Duduza’ means ‘comfort’, but conditions were all but comfortable and in later years this became one of the most highly active townships in South Africa in the fight against apartheid.

On the brighter side, there was ‘bush racing’ in the area, much enjoyed by the township folk. This is where Stinky first came into contact with horses and betting. “The kids loved going to a bush race. We took small bets among each other on which horses would win and this was exciting.”

Despite their challenging conditions, Stinky’s mother managed to provide schooling for him in a creche and then into Sub A and onward for the completion of primary school. Later, they had to move to the small farming town of Matatiele in the Eastern Cape for Stinky to complete his secondary education. “We had no choice but to relocate again because of the poor state of schools in Daveyton, which bordered Duduza. In Matatiele, I was enrolled for classes in a makeshift facility for students within a boarding school for girls. It was a good decision and I matriculated in 1976.”

Stinky’s grandfather had mining in his blood. He worked on the gold reefs around Johannesburg and his passion for retrieving the rare and much in demand gold dust from the rich reserves of the Witwatersrand was passed on to his grandson. With no job opportunities, Stinky returned to the East Rand and started digging for gold himself, mainly on the mine dumps – large deposits of waste rock, sand or other residue that is produced during the course of mining operations – scattered on the outskirts of towns like Brakpan, Boksburg and Benoni.

“I had to earn a living. I had a hammer, a chisel and an old carpet to filter sand through water so I could get to particles of gold dust. There were environmental difficulties and zoning problems, today still, and problems with water. I used old sewage pipes to channel some water for my activities.”

Small particles of gold dust, scraped together, become grams of gold, then ounces. Soon, Stinky started to prosper and he drew some of his friends into his venture. What they were doing wasn’t technically legal, but the dumps consisted of material unwanted and abandoned by the mining companies and was there for the taking.

“I think you can say that I was the father of the original Zama-Zamas – by its official meaning, people who work illegally in abandoned mining areas and mineshafts in order to retrieve metals or minerals. But I have to say that being a Zama-Zama was something to be very proud of in the 1980s and 90s. There weren’t many of us, our only objective was to earn money to survive and we worked long, hard hours in awful conditions. There were copper cables in the vicinity of the dumps. We were friendly with the police, we helped them to protect those cables and catch the cable thieves. There were no criminals among us. Today, sadly, with the influx of people from neighbouring countries and increasing poverty, the criminal elements invaded the Zama-Zama’s and things have turned violent and nasty.”

With some cash on hand, Stinky started attending race meetings, mostly at the old Gosforth Park and Newmarket tracks, in the 1980s. He discovered a knack for picking the right outsiders and cashed out big money, often. He met regular race goer Jomo Thsabalala, still a good friend and associate today, and Jomo recalls: “Stinky likes outsiders, he finds them well. One day at Gosforth Park he marked a horse that came from Port Elizabeth that nobody liked and won a massive Pick 6. There were only two winners that day.”

With a new government in place and plans for expansion of his business, Stinky applied for a mining licence. He battled for several years, but the licence was eventually granted in 2000. This led to the establishment of his company, Copper Eagle Trading, near Brakpan. He employs 12 workers.


Stinky bought Purple Pitcher for R170,000, a horse selected by his original trainer, Billy Ruiters. “Billy wanted this horse at all cost. It was his only choice at the 2022 BSA Two-Year-Old Sale. He wouldn’t stop saying what a nice horse it was, so I went to 170k to get him. Normally, I buy in the 30k to 40k range. I’ve had most of my winners from that bracket, including Miss Daisy, Tried And True and Mighty Goddess.”

When Stinky parted ways with Ruiters in 2023, Purple Pitcher was sent to up-and-coming lady trainer Robyn Klaasen, with about 30 other runners spread between the Marwing brothers, Tony Peter, Lunga Gila and Jannie Borman. “I try to support small trainers because I don’t like to see anyone struggling. I come from struggling, and I know how it feels.”

He has no immediate plans to secure a potential champion to follow Purple Pitcher, and said: “I have four unraced horses and the reports I’ve had on all of them are encouraging. They look smart. I want to wait for a while to see how they go before I plan my next buys.”

To conclude, a question often asked: How do we get more owners involved in the sport of racing?

Stinky’s view: “I believe that the racing industry, like most others, is linked to the country’s economy. People do not have money to spend. Our government needs to fix the economy and create jobs. This is the only way to get racing to flourish again. Racing is popular still, people love it. They’ll come back the moment they have jobs and earn money. It is that simple!”

Stinky said that the dire unemployment problem in South Africa can also be dealt with decisively. “My solution is this: Our government needs to licence mining activities for individuals, followed by strict control and policing of the industry. Let me tell you, there is plenty of gold all over South Africa, enough for everyone for at least the next century. The only thing a worker needs to start a business is a chisel, a ten-pound hammer and a big towel to use as a filter. They can all make money.

“The gold price today is well over US$2000. An ordinary worker can easily retrieve just a gram a day, that will put R300 or R400 in his pocket. Or he can gather the particles over time for a bigger payout. Here we have a ready-made industry that will serve our needs and help to get crime under control. The government should buy the gold from the prospectors, regulate the industry and create a win-win for all. It is not rocket science, not a pipe dream either. I don’t know why they are not doing it!”

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