Black like Her­man Mashaba

Here’s an ex­am­ple of how tenac­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion can over­come great odds, show­ing his iconic traits

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‘Ide­cided I must go into busi­ness be­cause I re­alised I must do some­thing with this pre­cious life, that I have only one chance to live,” says Her­man Mashaba. This week, 21 Icons shines the spot­light on our third Icon in the sec­ond se­ries, en­trepreneur and phi­lan­thropist Her­man Mashaba. As founder of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary eth­nic hair care com­pany Black Like Me, Mashaba is not only an in­flu­en­tial and in­spir­ing busi­ness­man, he also stands as an ex­am­ple of how tenac­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion can over­come great odds, which demon­strates his iconic traits.

Lis­ten­ing to Mashaba’s story – of a child raised by a mother who earned barely enough clean­ing houses to feed her chil­dren – we are struck by his re­fusal to let his cir­cum­stances de­fine or con­fine him. “It’s all about mind-set,” he in­sists.

His mind-set is proac­tive – he is con­stantly alert to op­por­tu­nity. This is how, at the age of 24, the young man who had only vis­ited a hair sa­lon once came to start a com­pany that is to­day worth bil­lions and has be­come known as an as­pi­ra­tional and mo­ti­vat­ing brand in the black com­mu­nity. Black Like Me is as much a mar­ket leader to­day as when it was es­tab­lished al­most 30 years ago – yet its be­gin­nings were markedly hum­ble.

“I started my ca­reer as a sales rep, sell­ing prod­ucts for dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies from my car boot on a com­mis­sion ba­sis. That’s how I came across this fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to get into hair care prod­ucts – I no­ticed hair sa­lons spring­ing up all over the town­ships, vil­lages and cities. Black women were start­ing to take care of their hair and I re­alised this was go­ing to be the mar­ket of the fu­ture.”

Mashaba’s story is an ex­am­ple of one man be­com­ing mas­ter of his own des­tiny – some­thing he be­lieves we all can, and should, do. He main­tains that we can’t rely on govern­ment to turn our lives into a suc­cess, they should pro­vide an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment, but it’s up to us to make the most of what we’ve been given.

That’s why Mashaba urges to­day’s youth to see ed­u­ca­tion as the key to a bet­ter life. He says: “You need to use your ed­u­ca­tion be­cause that’s what’s go­ing to give you the men­tal ca­pac­ity to change your cir­cum­stances.”

Hard work is equally im­por­tant. Mashaba says there are no short cuts and that with­out sac­ri­fice, you can never ex­pect to suc­ceed in any area of your life.

21 Icons per­ceives that vig­i­lance is another hall­mark of his phi­los­o­phy.

Mashaba learnt this les­son the hard way, when, in 1993, the state-of-the-art fac­tory he had just built was torched by an ar­son­ist. Dev­as­tat­ing though this event was, Mashaba chose to see it as a wake-up call; a les­son that life must not be taken for granted. It also ce­mented in his mind the im­por­tance of tak­ing a proac­tive stance; it’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween de­ter­min­ing your fu­ture or let­ting your fu­ture de­ter­mine you.

The fu­ture is some­thing Mashaba is keenly aware of – his fam­ily’s fu­ture, for a start. Fam­ily and com­mu­nity re­main front and cen­tre in his heart and mind.

That’s an in­ter­est­ing view for a busi­ness­man, es­pe­cially one who has in­vested so much in his busi­ness. But Mashaba says the com­pany is sim­ply the ve­hi­cle that al­lows him to pro­vide his fam­ily with the things they need. He’s com­mit­ted to help­ing other en­trepreneurs achieve the same suc­cess. To this end, he es­tab­lished an in­vest­ment com­pany that pro­vides fi­nance for small busi­nesses.

But his pas­sion is in serv­ing South Africa. Now that he’s not ac­tively in­volved in Black Like Me op­er­a­tions, he spends most of his time – when he’s not golf­ing or play­ing the piano – fa­cil­i­tat­ing NGOs that rep­re­sent causes close to his heart.

One such or­gan­i­sa­tion is the Field Band Foun­da­tion, an ini­tia­tive that uses mu­sic to teach chil­dren life skills. The or­gan­i­sa­tion reaches more than 5 000 chil­dren through­out the coun­try.

For Mashaba, it is the men and women who make causes like the foun­da­tion suc­cess­ful who are the true South African icons.

“There are so many South Africans, black and white, who might not have high pro­files but who are do­ing beau­ti­ful things ev­ery day to help our so­ci­ety,” he says.

For him, that’s the most im­por­tant job any­one can do. “To me, be­ing South African means be­ing a hu­man be­ing. It means hav­ing a role to play in our beau­ti­ful coun­try.”

. Watch The Her­man Mashaba doc­u­men­tary on SABC3 at 8.27pm to­day

. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit Down­load Zap­par from your app store, zap the icon and see more on the doc­u­men­tary

HELLO Adrian Steirn meets Her­man Mashaba ahead of the 21 Icons project shoot


SNAPPED Her­man Mashaba and Adrian Steirn (left) share a

light mo­ment. Adrian Steirn pho­to­graphs Her­man Mashaba (right) for the


STRIKE A POSE Adrian Steirn gets Her­man Mashaba ready for his pho­to­shoot

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