Herman Mashaba – “I decided I must go into business because I realised that I must do something with this precious life that I have only got one chance to live.”
On 17 August 2014 at 20h27 on SABC 3, 21 ICONS – the acclaimed series that celebrates the South Africans who, through their passion and dedication, have played a key role in shaping our country and our world – shines the spotlight on entrepreneur and philanthropist, Herman Mashaba. As founder of ethnic haircare 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 demonstrating his iconic traits.
This intimate glimpse of Mashaba, his passion and his driving force, forms part of a series that pays homage to other South African giants. Their spirit has been captured in a striking and haunting manner by Adrian Steirn, one of South Africa’s leading filmmakers and photographers.
Accompanying each short film is a black and white portrait of the 21 ICONS. Says Sterin of Mashaba’s portrait “Take Black Like Me and apply it to a portrait, and there’s Herman Mashaba front and centre. Really inspirational, and positive, and yet there’s still something about him that is incredibly humble and down to earth.”
The portraits appear in the weekend paper on the same day as the film is flighted, and will be sold later this year at a charity auction, with funds donated to the charity of the icons’ choice. Mashaba has nominated The Field Bank Foundation to receive the funds generated through the sale of his portrait, which is a dramatic study in simplicity.
Listening to his story – the tale of a child raised by a mother who earned barely enough, cleaning houses, to feed her own children – Steirn and his production team are struck by Mashaba’s refusal to let his circumstances define, or confine, him. “It’s all about mindset,” he insists.
His own mindset is proactive; he’s constantly alert to opportunity. This is how, at the age of 24, a young man who had only once visited a hair salon came to found a company that is, today, worth billions and which has, moreover, become known as an aspirational and motivating brand amongst the black community. Today, Black Like Me is as much a market leader as when it was established almost 30 years ago – yet its beginnings were markedly humble. “I started my career in business as a sales rep, selling products for different companies from the boot of my car on a commission basis. That’s how I came across this fantastic opportunity to get into haircare 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 that this was going to be the market of the future.”
Mashaba’s story is an illustration of one man becoming master of his own destiny – something he believes that we all can, and should do. We can’t rely on government to turn our lives into success, he maintains; they should provide an enabling environment, but after that, it’s up to us to make the most of what we’ve been given. 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.”
Season two of 21 ICONS South Africa is proudly sponsored by Mercedes-Benz South Africa, Momentum Asset Management, Nikon, Deloitte and the Department of Arts and Culture.