Herman Mashaba is a businessman, entrepreneur, capitalist, and now crusader – a man on a mission. As the founder of Black like Me and today the owner of Lephatsi Investments (assets under management of R600 million, stakes in 12 different listed and non-listed companies), he has been a leader in the business community for years.
Recently however he decided to extend his leadership beyond the boundaries of his business empire.
He takes his leadership position as the newly elected Chairman of the Free Market Foundation (FMF) very seriously, to the point that he spends about half his time campaigning for a more free market system in SA. He says: “Obviously all of us as South Africans are concerned about what’s happening at the moment with the threat of our free market principles”.
He feels strongly that the voices for nationalization and socialist principles have dominated the public platform for too long. In his view “this is unfair, but at the same time we have to take responsibility for raising our voices in our democratic society and present another view, which is precisely what I am doing”. He has chosen the Free Market Foundation as his vehicle and is willing to go all the way to achieve this, even the Constitutional Court if needs be.
Mashaba pulls no punches in making his opinion known that South Africa’s current labour laws are destroying job opportunities; that it was created several years ago and there were no doubt good reasons for the final product. However, time has passed and he and the FMF believe it does not serve the desperate need for job creation at this time. He speaks as a businessman and employer over the last thirty years.
He comments: “There is no way you can force employers to pay salaries that they cannot afford. So what happens? They don’t employ. And when you do employ someone and they don’t deliver you struggle to get rid of them. Why then take that risk. Business on its own is already a risk”.
According to him we simply need to create a high employment market “so that employers know that when they don’t pay someone enough they are going to move next door”. For Mashaba this is not rocket science, in that employers know they can’t hire and fire randomly after investing in people, because this costs money and time. He adds: “No employer anywhere in the world would want to employ people just to exploit them. From a logical point of view it doesn’t make sense. Because once you employ someone, for that person to be valuable to you they must be trained, and you don’t want to lose people and continually train new people. For you to really stabilize your business you need loyalty”.
While this is the angle from which Mashaba comes, when one pushes him he is astute enough to realise that there is a huge need for labour organisations like unions, because “we should not take it for granted that all employers mean good”. Advocating a free market system includes systems that ensure it is all done in a fair and responsible manner, which is where we need “all the role players, including labour, to ensure that scrupulous business people are kept in check. So I think labour have a big role to play. Personally I support them to be there to protect the ignorant with an oversight role”.
We have thrown the baby out with the bath water, according to Mashaba. “Absolutely. That is where I believe we made a terrible mistake, to ignore the basic fundamentals of how an economy works. An economy works on the basis of creating entrepreneurs who must be able to employ people where it makes commercial sense. If it doesn’t then people don’t employ”.
When Mashaba visits less privileged communities he notices the levels of unemployment and the desperation of people, which many of us do. He says: “It is actually quite scary; it hurts me that I am unable to assist them. The only way I can assist them is to engage the law makers to understand the devastating effects of this legislative framework”.
His real gripe lies with Parliament, and he explains it as follows: “The responsibility lies with Parliament. They are the ones that developed and approved this legislative framework. They need to understand and appreciate the fact that South Africa is not made out of two million union members, it is made out of fifty million people and all of them are stakeholders. I think that when we come out with legislation, we should make sure we come up with something that is equitable to the fifty million South Africans and not the minority”.
Mashaba referred to the millions of South Africans that are unemployed, many of them within the youth category, and he is convinced government is not helping with this. Sooner rather than later this time bomb will explode, and signs are already evident.
At least ninety percent of the waitrons in restaurants across Gauteng and other places are from countries up north, mostly Zimbabwe. And many gardeners and domestics are also from Zimbabwe. The reason for this speaks to Mashaba’s argument where labour legislation prevents free negotiations between prospective employee and employer; where government interferes with a citizen’s freedom and right to decide whether he/she wants to work for a certain income. Because of this barrier, employers employ foreigners who are not bound by these restrictive laws. As a result, and understandably so, millions of wonderful Zimbabweans enter the SA economy, which logically adds to the burden placed on basic services like health and education.
According to Mashaba, short term interventions to create income, like grants, may be necessary. However, his view is that it “destroys the dignity of our people, if we see it as a long term solution. It can never be a sustainable way of addressing our social issues”. Dignity and determining one’s own future are principles he believes in passionately.
This leader is on a mission and what motivates him personally is to succeed at whatever he does. His biggest fear is failure. And he believes “the only way to avoid failure is to work harder every day and to be conscious not to take anything for granted, because life can change overnight”
South Africa has a new player on the field, a participant in its social choir; another voice that adds to our societal decision making process that will hopefully lead South Africa towards its full potential.
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