How To Spread It: Herman Mashaba

2013-06-16 10:00

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Herman Mashaba (54), is the self-made tycoon behind the hair care empire Black Like Me. Since 2009 he has been founding executive chairman of Lephatsi Investments.

Mashaba is also chairman of the Free Market Foundation.

In his 2012 autobiography, Black Like You, he recounts his slog to success from the days when he sold perm products to hair salons from his car boot.

This modest magnate prefers to keep his philanthropy work under wraps, but he is known for his passionate involvement in the South African Field Bands Foundation (FBF), an arts programme that supports thousands of teens from some of the country’s most deprived places through music and dance.

An equally passionate family man, Mashaba says his 30-plus years marriage to his wife Connie, is the best thing in his life.

Q: I hear that the first time you saw a Field Bands competition it was love at first sight – or sound! What attracted you?

A: My involvement with the FBF was quite accidental. Credit goes to the PG Group who conceived the idea of this project, and invited me to be part of it. I initially joined as a patron and immediately fell totally in love.

Witnessing the performances was magical. These were kids from difficult backgrounds with no prior musical experience, playing like real stars. What was profound was the opportunity being given these kids to do something positive with their lives.

Q: Support for the arts is not fashionable in a country with so many pressing basic needs. What was it about the Field Bands programme that made you want to jump in?

A: We are not in the music business; this is really a life skills project using music as a tool to attract the kids. Today we reach around 5?000 kids a week, all over the country.When we have their attention during weekly rehearsals, we use the opportunity to touch their lives by providing them with other basic life skills, like HIV and aids interventions, leadership development, self-discovery, self-motivation and cultural diversity.

Q: You’ve said that when people don’t get paid for their participation in foundations, they don’t always deliver. Are lazy “figureheads” a problem in the philanthropy sector?

A: This is the challenge faced by the NGO sector in our country. As a country we need to teach people at a young age a sense of how to just be good human beings in our society. The success of the NGO sector is totally dependent on voluntary service.

Q: Are you a hands-on philanthropist?

A: I took a decision 10 years ago to only involve myself with projects I can personally get involved in. I do not believe in just giving, but in teaching recipients to be self-sustaining over time. Hence I spend at least 50% of my time on community projects. I am using my privileged position to make a difference to the lives of those less fortunate than I.

Q: Have you personally met anyone who has benefited from one of the Field Bands programmes who made a lasting impression on you?

A: I daily meet and engage with these kids, and I am proud to see most of them blossom and become remarkable human beings. We have Simon Skafu, a product of our foundation, who today is one of our most committed board members. It is our wish in the near future to see this foundation being run, at board level, by former participants.

Q: Was there anything or anyone in your own upbringing that shaped the way you think about giving?

A: Giving, for me, is actually part and parcel of being a human being. It is part of our DNA. My personal survival is closely linked to the broader community in which I have to function. But I always want people around me to know that I do not owe anyone anything.

Q: Does giving make you happy?

A: I normally cry inside when I see people around me blossom and become the best they can be. If you want to discover my personal weakness, put me around my successful projects and people.

Q: Can you describe one of your best giving moments?

A: Ten years ago I was approached by the Water Colour Society to fund a project to expose unknown black fine artists. The first year we had 14 artists participating, and are now busy with preparations for the tenth anniversary after a very successful 2012 project with 68 artists. Some of these guys are now successful businessman and woman.

Q: As a father, has it been important to teach your own children about giving?

A: My kids have always been part and parcel of my involvement with these projects. Over and above teaching them to care, I also impress on them the value of participation.

Q: Do wealthy South Africans have a duty to give away their money, not just spend their CSI budgets?

A: My belief is that all of us who are privileged have a duty to assist those less fortunate. We do not have to do it because of compliance with the law, but because it is the right thing to do.

* This series was developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust.

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