Dr Herman Mashaba is back on stage: A review

An esteemed graduate from the “University of Hard Knocks”, Herman Mashaba was bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration by the Free State Central University of Technology (CUT) recently which offers a golden opportunity to celebrate his supreme entrepreneurial path.

It was long overdue for this super entrepreneur whose venture Black Like Me was described by one of South Africa’s most respected intellectuals, Dikgang Moseneke, as “a study in sheer ingenuity and tenacity”

Now a high flying businessman; and dare we say an unwashed rightist lobbyist, Mashaba’s path to the top is one of the most inspiring stories of all time. Life was as tough as they come for the young Mashaba who was born in a village called GaRamotse, in Hammanskraal.

He was knocked into a young volatile shape in a number of villages, Majaneng, Leboneng and Themba, where his dirt poor family scoured the barren earth for better life in the 1960’s. We now know all this, thanks to his recently published and gripping autobiography titled Black Like You.

That book title is extremely loaded with psycho-political intellectualism displaying the budding political scientist in Mashaba. His mission to master the “science of politics” was in 1980 aborted in the second year of study at Turfloop now known as the University of Limpopo. However university diverted Mashaba from the edge of “thuggery”. In his book he writes: “I was embracing adulthood and living the waywardness of youth behind me. I accepted that I could no longer sell drugs (marijuana) or set up a gambling school on campus and that I have to find other ways of surviving”. But still academia was not for THE one who was rushing to become a money making mogul. He dropped out and opened an equally righteous chapter.

Speaking at the Graduation Ceremony on 12 March 2013, Mashaba said, “I had always wished to study further and obtain my doctoral degree in political science to become a political scientist of note. My dreams of acquiring a university degree were shattered in 1980 when I was doing my second year at the University of the North due to political disturbances of the time. Unfortunately I had to abandon my studies and decided to focus my energies on a business venture to get back my freedom”.

Freedom via the economic avenue is big in Mashaba’s. His book title Black Like You speaks to that. In that title he wishes to encourage more black people into entrepreneurship. It’s a message which says; If I made it, you can also make it big. But his obsession with economic freedom may also be a reflection of a rightist ideological tendency which he is reflecting nowadays.

Vice Chancellor and Principal of CUT, Prof Thandwa Mthembu commented, “Dr Herman Mashaba is one of the few notable figures in this country who epitomizes the true meaning of an entrepreneur. He is truly a role model and inspiration to our youth. As a university, we have decided to honour Dr Mashaba for his immense contribution to business in this country. He is a self made entrepreneur who holds a conspicuous space within business for having distinguished himself amongst his peers and transcended the challenges of growing his business ventures in an environment that was less conducive and less supportive to emerging entrepreneurs like him to enter the mainstream economy.”
The CUT statement captured Mashaba’s travails in the following fashion. “From humble beginnings selling products including insurance, fire-detection systems and household goods on a commission basis from the boot of his car for almost two years, Dr Mashaba got his big break in 1983 when he found a job selling hair-care products on a commission basis for a Johannesburg-based company. He had finally found his niche, and within 19 months had made up his mind to start manufacturing his own hair-care products. With his wife, three partners and a R30 000 loan, Dr Mashaba set up production in a 200 m2 Small Business Development Corporation unit in Ga-Rankuwa, in the then homeland of Bophuthatswana. He named his business Black Like Me, and the first bottles of his products hit the shelves in February 1985. The rest, as they say, is history!

“Today, Dr Mashaba is an internationally recognised businessman with investments in various sectors of the South African economy, including real estate, financial services, exhibitions and events, insurance brokerage, bulletproof materials, security, fuel distribution, cleaning services, facilities management, merchandising, and media planning and buying. His recently-launched autobiography, Black Like You, has been met with critical acclaim and much interest from the media and public alike”.

Mashaba said “Education has been close to my heart; hence I have always invested heavily in helping people to achieve the best in what they do. As I receive this award, I need to make a special appeal to all South Africans particularly within academia, to work hard toward finding workable solutions before it is too late.”

In that word of thanks Mashaba reveals the sharp lobbyist he has become. Nothing extraordinary in that as he is only enforcing the polarization of the country’s politics, black politics if you like. Many other figures who were much closer to the congress movement have become sharp critics of the ruling ANC Government. These will include individuals like the former civil servant turned businessman Sipho Pityana, Desmond Tutu, Njabulo Ndebele etc. And there is the Cope factor and now A Gang.

But then Mashaba seems to have gone too far. He took up the position of chairing the Free Market Foundation last year in what appears to have taken him towards the extreme right of the ideological spectrum. Some will say this positioning is at odds with the Mashaba they have come to know who after the awesome Black Like Me path dabbled in the black economic empowerment (BEE) game, a poser of an interventionist economic redistribution plan.

But then those who have seen him in action will tell you that, Mashaba can spot a gap. His; is a special skill complemented by a smooth tongue. He illustrated this skill recently during a public talk hosted by ABN Group at the Johannesburg Rand Club. “When black women wanted to be permed in the 1980’s, I said to myself; perm them Mashaba”.

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