Politics aside, the current leader of ActionSA, Mr. Herman Mashaba, is a man I have a lot of respect and admiration for. His personal story of overcoming abject poverty and the economic barriers imposed by the racist Apartheid state to become one of the most successful black businessmen in South Africa is truly remarkable and will inspire generations of black people to come.
The reason why I am dedicating this column to him is because I too, like political analyst Prince Mashele, believe that we as black people should “celebrate and own the achievements of fellow black individuals as a mark of our collective progress.” Beyond this, I believe we should also celebrate black self-made businesspeople who have immensely contributed to the socio-economic development of our nation.
His political detractors may not be pleased to hear this, but Mashaba’s Black Like Me hair care product company has created employment for thousands of black people since it was founded with Walter Dube’s R30 000 loan in 1985. In other words, Mashaba has successfully used business as a tool to improve the socio-economic conditions of our people.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the BEE beneficiaries who have tragically become the role models of many young people in our communities. As Mashele argued in another article he wrote on the failed BEE policy in 2018, these individuals are not businesspeople in the true sense because they have not created jobs for black people on a mass scale. They have either milked the South African state through the tender system or benefitted from white-owned companies through shareholding. In other words, they have done nothing substantive to improve the living conditions of our people.
Against this backdrop, my heart always sinks whenever I hear typical young black radicals disrespecting an individual like Mashaba and calling him a “product” of “white capital”.
What is wrong with us as black people? Why do we have a tendency of villainizing those who advance our collective interests and idolizing those who squander our future? Even if Mashaba was a product of white capital, it would still make sense to praise him rather than to attack him because he has played a crucial role in the socio-economic development of our nation.
What we fail to appreciate in our ignorance is the fact that self-made businesspeople like Mashaba have enhanced our collective image as black people. Their success has proven that we blacks are not merely a nation of servants and that we too possess the ability to convert entrepreneurial ideas into concrete projects that transform lives and society at large.
The BEE beneficiaries, on the other hand, have (through their actions) reinforced some of the most racist stereotypes about black people. By reducing themselves to mere beneficiaries of crumbs that fall from the tables of white elites, these BEE blacks have vindicated the collectivist notion of inherently lazy and corrupt blacks who survive on “freebies” and handouts.
Furthermore, individuals like Mashaba are exemplary figures who are instilling a true business culture in our communities. They are grooming young black minds to become productive businesspeople that will contribute to the development of our society in the near future. Here again, the BEE beneficiaries are actively contributing to the moral and social degeneration of our communities.
In stark contrast, they are teaching young blacks that the key to success in business lies not in working hard but forming relationships with those who occupy positions of power in society. They have also brought a poisonous culture of crass materialism into our communities, which is typically characterised by the excessive display of shallow material wealth like luxurious vehicles, expensive clothing, and expensive liquor.
According to the President of Rise Mzansi, Mr. Songezo Zibi, this poisonous culture will turn black people who are otherwise good into thugs that will pillage the resources of our state in order to access shallow material wealth.
Indeed, Zibi is correct. I would add that this culture has already deformed the humanity of many black leaders in our society. We have heard too many scandals of black kleptocrats who loot billions of rands in state resources so they can afford Gucci outfits and lavish trips to Western countries.
While a lot more can be said about this particular topic, I will rest my pen because the space I have available here has run out.
For now, let me be clear: A national dialogue between us as black people is more than urgent to save ignorant blacks among us who are attacking our heroes and praising thugs who are destroying our collective future.
Mashaba the businessman is a hero to those of us who are sober!
~ written by Ayanda Sakhile Zulu, politics student at the University of Pretoria.