Black capitalist par excellence

Entrepreneur's Free Market fight is a lifelong mission

The founder of Black Like Me cosmetics: Herman Mashaba
Black Like Me
The remarkable thing about Black Like Me founder Herman Mashaba is that he is a nobody. 

Growing up in poverty near Hammanskraal in Gauteng, he has no politically connected family members and nothing in his past that puts him personally in line for preferential treatment when the first democratically elected government came into power.

In fact, by the time that landmark victory was celebrated by South Africans, Mashaba (52) had already been a successful business owner for nearly a decade – a feat achieved courtesy of inner reserves of determination and ambition.

Even black economic empowerment (BEE), the vehicle that powered many a black businessman to success post-1994, was boarded late and rather reluctantly by Mashaba, who realised the irony in accepting the benefits of his ‘previously disadvantaged status’ because he had succeeded despite apartheid.

“I needed to fuse the BEE controls with my personal business ethics,” he explains, adding that he refused to be a black name on a letterhead and demanded more than being stuck in a corner office, doing nothing to earn his position. 

It is this level of integrity and the inspiring story of his hair-care enterprise that became a household name at a time when black men were not allowed to own or operate businesses in white areas, that gives truth to Mashaba’s Top Entrepreneur title. 

And while he was not active in the struggle to liberate South Africa from oppression, he is at the forefront of a struggle that still wages on – that of achieving economic freedom. 

An unashamed capitalist, Mashaba is not unsympathetic to the pressing need for job creation. 

How could he be, given that as a child he often went to bed hungry and grew up surrounded by defeat and despair as youngsters left school, only to loll about street corners and shebeens, with no prospect of gainful employment? 

He is adamant that people go into business to make money, and insists that job creation is a byproduct of this, but not the driving force.

With the unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2012 rising to 25.2%, Mashaba is outspoken about the need for the government to stop trying to create jobs out of thin air, but instead look at the changes it can make to the business environment to stimulate the economy.

 An urgent review is needed of current labour legislation, looking at the issues of minimum wages, the ease with which employees can go to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration, centralised collective bargaining, and hiring and firing laws.  

“I am not naive in thinking that all businesspeople mean well and, therefore, controls are not needed; check and balances are vital,” says Mashaba. 

“For a capitalist system to operate in today’s times, we need to respect corporate governance and take responsibility beyond making money. 

"But the only effective way to empower people is to create skills. By making them employable, you are giving them real power.

 “The result of the legislation as it stands is to destroy jobs. Instead of legislation being punitive, it must be enabling.”

Free Market man 

Elected earlier this year as chairperson of the Free Market Foundation (FMF), Mashaba believes citizens have a responsibility to help those who need assistance and says this is why he joined the foundation.
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Issue 83


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