Creator of hair care brand, Black Like Me, Herman Mashaba ruffled feathers this week.
The self-made businessman was interviewed by CNBC Africa’s senior anchor and ABN Group executive director, Bronwyn Nielsen, at the second Forbes Africa Titans event, held at the Rand Club, Johannesburg on Tuesday night (18 September).
Pressed on what his first task, as president would be, were he to find himself appointed tomorrow, the businessman said he would scrap the country’s labour dispensation. He said South Africa’s high unemployment rate kept him awake at night.
“Those seven million people without work have to be given an opportunity. Some of them have not worked since 1994,” he said.
He added he would make education a priority and surround himself with competent people, who knew more than him.
But Mashaba got hackles up when he said affirmative action is alienating “our white counterparts.”
“We should work together and not alienate our white counterparts who can contribute towards growing our economy,” he said.
A member of the audience later questioned Mashaba's logic, saying employment statistics proved that corporate South Africa was not abiding by the regulations of the Employment Equity Act.
"We are really in trouble if a prominent businessman like him speaks like that," he said.
Another member of the audience, who happens to be white and runs a small agency said he did not understand what Mashaba's problem with the labour legislation was.
"I know that my problem is that I cannot fire someone who is not delivering because of the regulations. But I don't understand what his problem is. He did not articulate it well enough for me," said the businessman.
Mashaba also said that South Africa was run by the labour movement and communists, and as a result was disintegrating. He urged whites to get involved in the affairs of the country.
“I have heard white businessmen say to me – look at what this government of yours is doing,” he said.
“We made a mistake in 1994 when Mr Mandela was elected. We thought everything was okay and went to bed. We are still sleeping while the country disintegrates,” he said.
Asked what social projects he was involved in, Mashaba warned that it was a mistake to go into business for political reasons.
“Go into business to make money, don’t go into business thinking you can solve everyone’s problem,” he said.
He added he was involved in several projects but did not like talking about them because then it seemed like he was doing it for show.
Mashaba’s story is well documented. He is a self-confessed capitalist and has recently been named chairman of the Free Market Foundation.
Raised in Hammanskraal, north of Gauteng, Mashaba went to the University of the North to study B.Admin but dropped out when protests halted classes. He never went back.
Finding himself without an occupation, he started selling crockery from the boot of his car. This proved profitable until he started selling hair care products. Two years later he realised he was sitting on a gold mine.
“Black women wanted to be permed. I said: Herman, you are going to perm them. Salons were mushrooming all over the place and men also started perming,” he said.
Along with three partners, he started Black Like Me. But trouble hit when someone torched the factory. This prompted Mashaba to sell three quarters of the business to Colgate-Palmolive in 1997. But he bought it back two years later.
Currently he is non-executive director of Black Like Me, executive chairman of Lephatsi Investments, Leswikeng Group of Companies and Phatsima Group of Companies and holds several other directorships.