Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|August 3, 2021|47 Minutes|In Billionaire Talks

Billionaire Talks

“We need to see people building factories, not burning down factories.”

Veteran capitalist crusader Herman Mashaba shakes his head in sorrow for his once hopeful nation. In this interview with Billionaire Tomorrow founding editor Chris Bishop, Mashaba he tells us what brings him despair –why Mugabe was evil – and why he still holds out hope for Africa. Billionaire Talks caught up with Mashaba as he toured torn communities in the wake of unrest in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province

 You are in Durban right now. Give us some images of the damages done to SA in the recent weeks?

Yes, I drove down to KZN yesterday morning at six. I got into PMB and went on the ground.  That was really the purpose of my visit, over the last two weeks we experienced one of the most tragic situations in history. It was an embarrassing situation and unimaginable and quite difficult to imagine that the same political party, that was responsible for liberating this country, is the same one causing this destruction. They gave us Nelson Mandela and in 1994 voted for him. Twenty-seven years later, is the very same party that is responsible for the destruction of the economy of this country because of their own internal factional battles and fighting to loot this nation. It is quite sad and unimaginable. As a South African, who lived half my life under Apartheid, and in 1994, on 27 April, voted for Nelson Mandela. I was looking forward to the explosion of talent of this nation for some of us who managed to make a life under difficult circumstances.  Twenty-seven years later, the situation looks even bleaker than in 1994. I believe the resilience of people and some of us privileged are prepared not to see this country going the same way as Zimbabwe and this country to be destroyed by corrupt criminal politicians.

Many people suffered and lost. Billions of dollars lost for entrepreneurs – who hung on during Covid 19 and who are now watching their businesses going up in smoke.

While it was still happening, I was visiting some of the shopping malls in Soweto that were attacked. Black entrepreneurs, not these tenderpreneurs created by the ANC government where they are running franchise stores like Shoprite Checkers.  These are Doctors and surgeries.  People running hairdressers and salons. They were just taking advantage of the poverty that was created. This wasn’t just looting it was actually the destruction of our country.

It was treason, high treason as far as I am concerned. We are going to hold Cyril Ramaphosa accountable to get to the bottom of this action.

I believe you are going to launch some legal challenge with your lawyers?

Yes, I announced two weeks ago, when I realised Cyril Ramaphosa is not going to take this matter seriously. I am going to offer South Africans, with the help of top lawyers in our country, to take class action lawsuits against Cyril Ramaphosa, the minister of Police, ministers of the security clusters – including the ANC. Because they are the ones responsible for this destruction of property, destruction of lives. Because we lost over 300 people during this violence. I am, we are, holding President Cyril Ramaphosa responsible for this. I know he is going to do everything possible to delay and avoid going to court. Our lawyers are ready to prove that they are complacent in this violence by their inaction. This thing really didn’t just happen overnight. It developed in front of all of us as South Africans. We are going to pursue at all cost, this class action. By Monday, we already had 126 businesses that have registered on our website and our lawyers will shortly be making contact with them so we can start pursuing a class action. Two days ago, I lodged another action because I realise ANC tactics of playing around, they wanted to come out with a parliamentary inquiry into the matter. I think I am the last South African to trust ANC parliament, because they will use the majority in parliament to defend this criminality.

I wrote to the president asking him, I gave him 60 days to launch a judicial commission and appoint three judges. Ramaphosa is the president of the country so he can use one of them so we can have an independent body that could look into the matter. Us as South Africans, we don’t have any confidence in a parliament, with an ANC majority, because they are used to covering up issues.

As a politician, there was a time when you said you would never ever take the job of a politician. You said you were not good at is, you are an entrepreneur. Someone in the audience asked “Do you think Donald Trump has damaged the image of millionaires turning to politics.

Look I’m not an entrepreneur. I am a capitalist; I love the system that is why I wrote a book: “Capitalist Crusader”. I love the system; I love to be in an environment where I am able to make money. I have been in this environment for 4 decades. Two of which was under apartheid.  As a black person, created by God, I was not allowed to go into business. At the age of 22, I said to the apartheid government they were not going to create my destiny. I took a chance; I had nothing lose and was fortunate enough to succeed. That’s the space I really had fun for the last 4 decades. I started seeing the collapse of my country like Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe collapsed in front of my eyes and the Zimbabweans made the mistake of sitting back and thought that Zanu PF under Mugabe will self-correct. I decided to use my privilege position – instead of running away of my country- I said I am not going anywhere. I’m going to do everything possible while our constitution is still in a position to hold this country accountable. And that is exactly what I am doing.

Let’s go back to the beginning and your early days. You were born in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, and you grew up in a poor environment where everybody was poor. How did this affect you as a person growing up and going into business?

First of all as South African blacks we were not allowed to go into business. I grew up with black entrepreneurship in our communities, some thriving despite the fact that the police and laws were against us. There were people who inspired me. I was unfortunate to lose my father at the age of two. I was born and raised in a child headed household. My sister of 13 was responsible for bringing me up. When I woke up in this world when I was five or six, there was no mother in the house. I had three sisters. The elder one was 18 and all of them still at school. My mother was a domestic worker in Johannesburg.  As I said, I lost my father at the age of 2 years old. But luckily my grandfather, I meant everything to him and he is the one who really shaped me to a large extent. He died in 1977 when I was 16 or 17. Throughout my life I knew very well that I meant so much to my grandfather. He lived for me and he made sure that I succeed in life. He actually demanded it; I remember growing up that he was such an embarrassment to me. I used to think that his expectations for me were unreasonable. He was putting too much pressure on me to succeed in life and to be an individual. He taught me to be an individual and not to rely on other people. He taught me to believe in ethical leadership and to be brutal when someone double-crossed me. Be brutal and don’t expect other people to be honest. If you expect people to be ethical, then you have to live that. That is why throughout my life and when I look at my business career in particular. I am not the kind of person to go out there and make friends. I value friendship; I must qualify, I value friendship but then it must be genuine friendship. Don’t go out and double cross someone and if someone double crosses you once, don’t give them a second chance. That’s my motto in life. I don’t take advantage of anyone and I expect you to not do the same thing to me. One thing you must know with me, when you play double games with me, you won’t get a second chance. Don’t come and plead I am not even interested and won’t listen to you, because I know that I will never do the same to you. One thing for sure, my business success is based on friendship. My grandfather’s DNA started to come out.

When I started to go into formal business in 1984, selling products out of my car. I worked for a company in Johannesburg and 19 months later I was their top salesperson. I felt vulnerable and said to myself “you got to make this product yourself”. This guy can get rid of you, and you are building his brand. I was working on a commission basis so I had to take a chance and make this product myself. The apartheid law said you can’t do it and I said to PW Botha you can determine the lives of others, but not of Herman Mashaba.

This was the basis of your business success, was it not? You got a colleague from the company you were working for and you got a guy by the name of Johan Kriel to help.

Yes, you can imagine, Chris, in 1984 to approach a white…an Afrikaner for that matter, to be my partner. I needed technical know-how to make this product. I’m a trader and a salesman and I needed somebody with the technical know-how and the only person I could think of was a white Afrikaner man. I took a chance and luckily, he bought into my dream. He said, Herman I have no money. I said Johan are you interested, leave that to me I will go and raise the funding.  I approached a black business guy, Walter Dube in Mabopane. I didn’t know him personally but I knew of him because he was a very successful guy in our community. His wife had a salon in one of the shopping centres. I went to her and said Mrs. Dube please we want to start haircare products ourselves, but we need funding. Would you mind introducing us to your husband and obviously everything else is history.

With the disaster that happened to entrepreneurs the last two weeks. The same happened to you, you built up a factory with your partners and in 1993 you woke up and someone phoned to say your factory is on fire. How devastating was that for you?

You know, that is why this situation that happened two weeks ago it’s a reminder. It takes me back to 17 Nov 1993, on the eve of our elections, when criminals took advantage of the break of the rule of law at the time. As I approached it, I realised something was not right. Sadly enough, now it is 27 years later no investigation was carried out.  I provided many leads to our law enforcement agencies and I have given up. Nobody was interested. The Apartheid government was no longer interested. For me, that’s when and I look at it in reflection.

Aside from politics, what do you think entrepreneurs and investors should be doing right now during these difficult times for South Africans in 2021

I really don’t Chris. One of the issues that drove me to politics is because I lost faith in the investment climate in South Africa with all these BEE (black empowerment) policies. Let me give you an example, about 8 years ago when I lost faith in the business environment including BEE. This black economic empowerment was a system to help politically connected people. For me as a black business man I refused to invest in anything long term in SA. That’s when I realised, we are in trouble.

Because of BEE through my corporate advisers, I was introduced to some white companies looking for black investors.

It was in the mining industry but this business required funding as well; they knew if they didn’t have a black partner, they are not going to get the necessary licenses. My advisors knew I had the money and they approached me. We started negotiations and I got my guys to do due diligence and I liked the outcome of that study. At that stage they wanted to give me 30% of the business for R140 million rand. Being a capitalist, I negotiated it down to 100 million. You must understand mining investment is not a place where you invest today and see your till running tomorrow. It’s a five-year kind of investment, if you are lucky. After negotiating to bring down the price to R100 million. Before the lawyers could start drafting the agreement, I started to feel uncomfortable in investing long term because the corruption with Zuma at the time was getting out of hand. It was one of the hardest decisions to make to not make a long-term investment in South Africa. I had to call my legal team and said as much as I like this investment, I am not proceeding with a R100 million investment in the long term in South Africa. That’s when I realised South Africa is in trouble because if a black South African who is going nowhere, is too scared to invest, what about an investor in London or New York or Sydney?

What other countries in the African continent do you look at and have confidence in?

Rwanda, for me, has opportunities. My wife and I, in 2015, went on a fact-finding mission. We flew into Kigali and I made arrangements. I had a 4×4 with a driver to take us across Rwanda.

The potential in that country is massive. I look at the history of what they went through in 1994 when we were voting for Nelson Mandela.  I have so much respect for the Paul Kagame and his administration

If I didn’t go into politics, I would have looked into investing heavily in Rwanda because of the potential there. Unfortunately, I am out of direct business now. I have my wife and daughter to look after our family interests.


If you say there were three things in Rwanda economically right, aside from politics what would you say?

It is strong decisive leadership. The patriotism of the leader and there is still a sense of patriotism in Rwanda. They are people who have looked at their history and decided to move forward. They are not scared to talk about their history but their focus is the future. The Rwandans are not victims of their past. They are not victims. The tragedy of the most African countries is that they have a slave mentality. People are making a fortune out of that mentality. It is an unfortunate situation where we live in an environment where people condition your mind to a slave mentality, even though slavery was abolished more than 200 years ago. There are companies running successful business by positioning Africans to have that slave mentality.  I once read a book by Jason Riley where he is actually asking liberals to leave us alone

As a capitalist which other African counties would you invest in?

As a capitalist it would be Rwanda and maybe Botswana, but that is a small economy. Outside of that it would be Mauritius. Other than that, I honestly wouldn’t invest my hard-earned money anywhere else at this point in time. With all these dictators around, I would never put my money where somebody has an interest in himself and his close family. It is sad and quite painful not to really have any confidence in your own continent. That’s why when Thabo Mbeki took over and came up with African Renaissance, I was hopeful. He travelled the world to promote the rebirth of Africa; I thought Thabo Mbeki would deal decisively with all these dictators and force them to accept democratic governance.

I was quite surprised when Mugabe and Zanu PF started human rights abuses and Thabo Mbeki defended them. I was broken and disappointed. The role that SA took to keep Zanu PF and Mugabe in power. I was surprised when people wanted to cherish Robert Mugabe as one of the great leaders, because Mugabe was one of the most-evil human being I have come across.

Question from the audience, you say BEE is a tool for the elite. If you became president, would you abolish it?

I would not keep a system that would disempower black people to help the politically connected.

If I have the power, I would abolish it overnight and come out with core values like social justice where we can invest in education. Encourage private sector investments and use your God given talents to make money. We can then collect taxes and encourage poor communities to go to school. Build the best schools and hospitals and clinics. So, 25 years down the line, you can begin to see the rewards of when you allow people to use their talents and not the schemes of being politically connected.

We have been talking grim facts. What would you be saying to entrepreneurs in 2021, what would you be saying to them about the future?

At the moment, South Africa can still be saved. But it is up to us, particularly black South Africans who decide the government. It is up to black South Africans to liberate themselves, to get rid of this corrupt criminal government. I think without the removal of the ANC I am afraid as long as we have the ANC in power, SA will be a failed state. Zimbabwe will look like a Sunday school picnic. There is no choice; every day that we have an ANC government in power is a day that gets lost. It can only get worse; there is just no way that the ANC will self-correct. It is up to black South Africans to correct while the constitution still allows. The ANC is determined to be in power forever. That is why they are going to the extent of Zanu-PF by destroying the economy. They are too scared to face the electorate.

We were supposed to have local government election on the 27th of October in two months’ time and they are too scared to face the electorate so they are coming with all sorts of excuses to delay these elections. I’m a positive person, but a pragmatic person, but with the ANC in power I am afraid this country will be a failed state.

Question from audience Ideas are worth 10% and execution 90%, how do you execute at high standards when you are an entrepreneur?

Hard work, it is not really negotiable and also really, I was brought up to always face life on a long-term basis. I don’t like short cuts. In the process sometimes I get luckier. I am not scared of hard work and I believe in partnership because I am a human being. I can only know so much. My grandfather instilled in me a belief to work with others but at the end of the day there has to be integrity in what you do. That’s the biggest asset I have.

That’s one thing in private business a lot of entrepreneurs talk about this issue of bribery that comes along. It seems most people; the richest to the poorest have that. What do you do if somebody comes along and asks you for a bribe?

That’s the reason why I got so discouraged and started coming out openly about these fake economic empowerment policies. When they established them under Cyril Ramaphosa, remember we had this black economic empowerment commission under Cyril Ramaphosa; and they were talking about the broad base. I said look it is the right thing to do under the circumstances to help black South Africans to expedite their economic growth. And when I started realising, right in the beginning of my investment in BEE, I realised every time you deal with government people expect you to bribe. Let me give you another example in the 80s when SABC started looking for funding it was still run by the national party. It helped to grow my business They approached businesses for funding. I was one of the first businesses to fund programming and I was doing it for commercial purposes. They were looking for money to develop programming and they knew I was one of the first business people and I knew how to negotiate. You give them money but I would get three million rand of advertising in return.

You can ask SABC, I was one of those people who helped them not to go to government for funding. Then 1994 came, but during Apartheid and dealing with those Apartheid people there was not a single person asking me for any money.  1994 came and management started changing and people started asking for a loan or whatever. That’s when I realised what the hell is going on here; I don’t want to support this. You know when you get involved in bribery and those sorts of things you do it once and you are locked in for the rest of your life. You are dead and how are you going to get out of this situation.  When people ask how come you are no longer involved in SABC and they go to parliament when they can get private sector to help. I don’t know if they still do it. I haven’t done business with them in 15 years. I really hope that the new management has learned something to stop asking for loans and bribes.

Another question coming in. What is your take on Chinese investment in Africa and South Africa?

For me, I welcome investment from any part of the world. But it has to come at our terms. I’m a strong believer for any transaction to be sustainable; it’s got to be a win-win for both parties. I don’t believe in a one-sided deal, even if it benefits me. For a deal to be sustainable it’s got to be a win for both parties. I will welcome investment from anywhere in the world as long as it is a win for everyone. Here in SA at the moment, our smelters are closing down; we are closing down our processing plants. We are one of the countries with the longest sustainable unemployment rate in the world because our politicians are bribed and that is why they are selling our minerals and bringing in counterfeit goods illegally. It can’t happen under my administration. The rule of law has to apply. If you bring counterfeit expired goods into the country. You have to respect the laws of our country

In Africa politics and money are so intertwined, how you would advise young entrepreneurs to stay free of politics and avoid predatory political manoeuvres to grow their businesses and chase their dreams.


It is a challenge that I have also experienced on the continent. People make it in business and became billionaires but it is a result of their closeness to politicians, it is something that I detest. I don’t need relationships with politicians, even now that I am directly in a political role. I want to create an environment for entrepreneurs to use their God given talents and make as much money as they want; as long as they are legal and pay taxes so that we can educate our nation and build them the best hospitals and best schools. You don’t have to do business because you are close to a politician – that is absolute nonsense that I would never accept. I wish that I can live to see Africa operating in that kind of environment. Politicians and business people that is corrupt. There must be consequences

In some countries, if you are corrupt, you pay a fine before your legs touch the ground. How difficult is it going to be to bring in a system where people can’t be corrupt? Bearing in mind, the prosecutions we have seen have taken a long time to go anywhere?

It is because there is no political will. Who are the most corrupt? They are those politicians themselves.  Who is supposed to execute the rule of law? To correct that situation is the easiest thing you can do.

I was the mayor of the City of Johannesburg for three years. In the municipality where prosecution is not a competency of the municipality, for the first time in SA, running a municipality I established a forensic investigation unit. I brought in some of the guys from the Scorpions. You remember when Jacob Zumba disbanded the Scorpions and all the good cops and investigators are today without jobs.

When we take over is to immediately bring back that unit and get Scotland yard and the Americans to train our people as a matter of urgency and show that there are consequences. Whether you are a president or not. They don’t need a politician’s permission. They must prosecute as long as they have evidence. That is what I will do. I can tell you the people of this country give me the mandate. Within months the establishment of the Scorpions will be my highest priority and get the Americans to train our guys.

I am sure the Americans and the British will really come to our aid. I’m not asking for handouts, because they have the best investigative capacity.  That’s why we have always said to people, and I have written about it too.

In my next life, if there is such a thing, I would really like to be a forensic investigator. I want to be a homicide detective, when I watch the Americans and the British – their law enforcement agencies are so committed. That is the culture in South Africa that can easily be developed. I developed that in the City of Johannesburg. Unfortunately, we had no authority to prosecute.

In three years as a major I discovered R 85 billion Rand of fraud and corruption by ANC politicians. To date not a single case has been prosecuted. With bank statement evidence and everything, not a single case has been prosecuted.

Back to business. In business having a positive attitude goes hand in hand with objections and criticism. How do you deal with that?

It interesting, today I was addressing a community in the media. I had a big press conference in the morning where I talked about it. For me, when you criticize me, you make me strong, so don’t think you are going to destroy me by unleashing criticism and insults on me. I know it makes me strong because I act in good faith. If I have got a matter to deal with and when people start unleashing criticism that’s when I realize Herman, you’ve got something here. That’s when actually they make me strong.

 What’s your opinion on the African Continental, free trade area?

I don’t know, I think I have already expressed my views. From a SA perspective, under my leadership, you can only have free trade when there is a rule of law and there is human rights respect. I am going to find it difficult to do business with dictators and people who don’t respect human rights. It is probably something that I need to find ways to deal with. At the moment I can’t see the big picture but I can’t see myself doing business with people who don’t respect the human rights of their own citizens.

Talking about minerals, SA is home to gold and platinum. As the world looks toward electric cars etc. SA has the resources to export to help this. How are we going to be mining the products of the future, instead of just exporting it all raw?

Remember earlier I said SA smelters are closing down because we don’t have electricity – they squandered the opportunity and the level of corruption is high. We are not business friendly. We are run by a government that is a tri-parliament alliance of so called South African communist party and Cosatu. The minister of trade and industry in this country for the last 15 years is a communist. The guy before him, during Thabo Mbeki was a communist. Right now, we have Ebrahim Patel, a communist.  I can’t believe how the minister of trade and industry can be somebody who hates business. It is quite sad. If the only way that we could exploit the minerals, you need big investments from the international community. Unfortunately, the international community can only invest in countries where there are policies set and where there is a rule of law. Unfortunately, those conditions in SA right now are not fairly conducive, but we will create them. It is just a question of getting the voters because we are living in a democratic dispensation. Voters of the country, mainly the black people, are the ones who must decide the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children.

What would be the most valuable advice you would give to a young entrepreneur out there who is trying to make their way as an entrepreneur.

t is to fix your political environment. We must never fool ourselves. No country in the world can succeed economically in an environment of chaos and high levels of corruption. You need a political environment. It is important to be politically conscious. I don’t know give me an example of any of the countries that were successful in an environment of lawlessness and corruption. Is there one that you are aware of?

In my studies of economic and history of failing nations, I have never come across an example of one that society benefited out of anarchy.

One last question, I’m trying to summarise this. This thing of positive mind-set, bear in mind all that you have been through in the last 60 years or so. How do you keep a positive mind-set and how would you advise other people?

Well it is to believe in yourself. That’s what I always tell people when I address a group of people who are being told that they are victims and others are oppressive or they can’t make it on their own and they need someone else to hold their hands.  I always say, go home and look at yourself in the mirror and you will see a powerful person in front of you. Someone totally independent. If you have that belief and not allow other people to determine your destiny; I can tell you it can be a great continent with massive potential. Unfortunately, we need to believe in ourselves and have that understanding. Learn from our history, but to have a prosperous Africa, we need a new mind-set. A new mind-set of saying we are going to do it as Africans. Yes, we can partner and ask for interventions from other nations. We don’t need their money but I will create an environment for them.  You can imagine if we have an independent criminal justice system where we are safe. You can come and visit this beautiful country; you can come and spend your money here. You can invest here and nobody is going to burn down your factory. You can take your profits in an out. There are excellent incentives and you don’t have unions controlling the economy. You can create that environment but the first thing is to create that policy and certainty; and make sure there is the rule of law

Where do you think the billionaires of tomorrow are going to come from in Africa?

Well I think this continent is a golden opportunity for as long as we are prepared to work for it and start investing for future generations. If you look at mining, tourism for example. I have talked about Rwanda that country’s business potential is frightening and people are hard working. They believe in themselves and their country.  If, really, we have that leadership in Africa to start training our mind-set in 50 years this continent will be the envy of the world. The current generation has to lay that foundation.

End on a positive note, after all the horrors of the last couple of weeks. How did you feel when you saw all those people defending their communities against looting and cleaning up afterwards? In one instance even singing the national anthem. What did that mean to you in your heart?

It is what makes me love my country. That’s why I wake up every morning willing to fight for it. The majority of South Africans are resilient people, law abiding citizens, and God-fearing people. That is what excites me about my country. You have the few rotten ones, but overall South Africans, in particular, they are an amazing nation and that is why I am positive that we will defeat this current issue that is engulfing us. I’m’ excited about the future, but I know it is not going to be easy. I am approaching life like I was taught by my grandfather, life is not easy, but it is possible. I’m excited about the future of my country and my continent. We got to keep fighting that no one interferes with our current constitution. That is what will be creating billionaires in 40 and 50 years down the line. Not the overnight billionaires created by fictitious schemes. We need to see people that will be building factories, not burning down factories.





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