Herman Mashaba is a businessman, entrepreneur, capitalist, and a crusader – a man on a mission. As the founder of Black like Me and today the owner of Lephatsi Investments (stakes in 12 different listed and non-listed companies), he has been a leader in the business community for years. It all started in the mid-eighties with two visionaries coming together – a black man and a white Afrikaans speaking man, during the days when black compatriots could not even roam freely without a pass, and against the backdrop against which Mashaba grew up believing “white people were evil creatures”, and no doubt his partner believing the same about black people. And of course their motive for coming together and building a business was their own, not forced by any legislation.
Uniting with an Afrikaner opened his eyes and he realized it suited politicians at the time to promote this division between black and white, to prevent them from associating on a deeper level. Mashaba discovered for himself “how wonderful human beings really are, regardless of their colour or anything.”
He has moved on from his legendary Black Like Me venture, yet he remains synonymous with the brand. But he does not mind this as it is the vehicle that brought him his independence that he so desperately wanted. This independence has placed him in a position to be courageous and take a stand on issues as he sees fit, again, driven by his own motive, which invariably leads to high motivation and energy that is clearly visible when one is in his presence.
A few years ago he decided to extend his leadership role beyond the boundaries of his business empire when he took up the leadership position as Chairman of the Free Market Foundation (FMF). Of this he said at the time: “Obviously all of us as South Africans are concerned about what’s happening at the moment with the threat of our free market principles.”
Recently he continued his crusade when he stepped down from the FMF position to announce publically that he became a first time card carrying member of a political party at the age of 54, and his party of choice is the Democratic Alliance. Politics has never been in his blood, though he has always been a “conscious citizen”, as he puts it. Again – a decision driven by personal conviction and his own motive – which is the pattern of his life. He comments: “This is how I operate. I am a totally independent human being. My decision took everybody by surprise, even my immediate family”, with whom he discussed his decision a week before actually doing it.
His move has solicited views and comments from all quarters, which is what he wanted. He knew it would evoke debate and even harsh criticism, often backed by weak and even baseless arguments, which arguments should come out and be exposed for what they are.
He advocates doing one’s own research, making well informed decisions and taking an active role in our society, which is what he plans on doing inside the DA. Perhaps, a tipping point for him was when during these last elections he continued hearing accusations of the DA as a “white” party, yet he voted for them because of their manifesto and policies that resonated with him, and he knew so many other black South Africans that did the same. So another reason for joining the DA is to assist in combating the false perception that it is a party for white South Africans only.
When all is said and done, how much has changed when it comes to political leadership? Does it still suit politicians to promote division between black and white when the headline on the front page of one of the newspapers Monday read: “Hidden hand is white“, apparently a claim made by ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantache referring to the persistent platinum strike. Mashaba feels strongly that he saw what racist policies of the previous government did to our country and he does not want to sit idly by while another government “continues advocating racism in our new democracy.”
This leader is on a mission and what motivates him personally is to succeed at whatever he does. Words that describe him are: independent, bold, fearless. Yet 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.”
Of leadership and himself as a leader he is convinced that he is an ordinary person with no extraordinary qualities. But he explains: “I have always functioned on the basis of being proactive. I don’t like being in a situation where I have to react or apologise. If you want a particular outcome things don’t just happen naturally, you have to manipulate, drive it in that direction, proactively.” And this is also why he openly announced his decision to join the DA; he expects a certain outcome, which amongst others is “to avoid a racial blood bath in our country and get South Africans to work together as a rainbow nation, not allowing politicians to divide them.”
As I wrote about him once: “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 SA towards its full potential.”
At the end of our Leadership Platform show on CliffCentral the CEO of MiWay Rene Otto shared an inspirational thought by John Buchan that is very applicable to Mashaba: “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” Mashaba’s greatness has and is still rising to the surface. To bring this out in people leaders must create an environment of independence, openness, proactivity, freedom to choose, taking responsibility for choices, and much more.
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