Herman Mashaba: Politics, leadership, and the way-forward in a post-COVID-19 South Africa

The following remarks were delivered today by Herman Mashaba, President of ActionSA, at the 2020 Annual Conference of the Institute of Risk Management South Africa (IRMSA). IRMSA is the Professional Body for Risk Management in South Africa.


John Stuart Mill once said and I quote: “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case, he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”


One cannot remain inactive in the face of injustice without, to some extent, being guilty of it. I never worry about action, but only inaction.’ Now, these are the words of a man who died in 1873, almost 150 years ago, and yet they remain true in the present day and continue to inspire me.


As a young boy born in a poverty-stricken Ga-Ramotse village, near Hammanskraal in Gauteng my life has been characterised by an ability to make calculated choices that have served to shape the trajectory of my life in the most productive ways.


Having lost my father at the age of 2, it was my paternal grandfather who instilled in me the sense of living a purpose-driven life.   I realised at an early age that education, hard work, and the sheer determination to succeed would unlock the doors to prosperity for me.


As I grew older, it became increasingly important for me to rise to the occasion and seize every opportunity that came my way. Not only because it meant being able to put food on the table but also because every opportunity meant that I could grow my skills base and learn new ones.


I am fortunate to have learnt this lesson early in life because it is what has steered me in the direction of being the businessman I became and the motivation to sustain a career that has spanned over 30 years.


I have sought to make a positive contribution to everything that I devote my time to.


Before I started my company, Black Like Me, I had been a salesman for another company called Super Kurl, when I soon realised that I could break into the black hair care market, and carve a name for myself manufacturing and distributing quality black hair products that would make a difference, not only to my family and but also in people’s lives. 


I soon understood that if I were to be successful, I would have to get used to breaking barriers because, during apartheid, it was extremely difficult for black people to build successful businesses under a discriminatory and increasingly oppressive legislative framework.


Since then, I can honestly admit that I was not aware that my hunger and drive to be excellent in whatever I put my mind to, would later see me cutting my teeth in politics and public service.


I never set out to be in public office, however, at the core of my being is a deep belief in living a life of purpose and service to others. In that sense, I think my life has come full circle!


I have achieved success beyond my wildest expectations in business, but, living a life where I can afford to support myself and my family while the vast majority of my people continue to live in abject poverty, with increasingly fewer options, is deeply unsatisfying.


Our government’s failure to improve the living conditions of our people has troubled me for many years!


I have seen, first-hand, like most South Africans, how difficult life is for people living with disabilities, in informal settlements, in the townships and rural areas of our country.


I have seen how corruption and looting of state resources have eroded the confidence of people in the political system.


I have seen how it has robbed us of the opportunity to build the nation of our dreams. One that we, and the world over, envisioned at the dawn of South Africa’s democracy!


I have watched the deepening anger of our people toward politicians, who have robbed us of our sense of hope.


Politicians who are severally and collectively responsible for our national depression!


But no longer!


As Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing!”


And so, ladies and gentlemen, I hung up my businessman coat, and in consultation with my family, decided to take up the white hat, get my hands dirty, and add my voice to the political discourse of our country! 


I had grown tired, like many of my countrymen and women, of revelations of mass corruption, maladministration, and unethical politicians who act with impunity, are driven by greed and politics of the stomach with little to no regard for the interests of the people of our country.


I had to take action!


It is undeniable that the challenges of our country are enormous and the task of mending a broken political system will not be an easy one, but I will be unrelenting alongside many South Africans in the pursuit to save our country.


In 2016, I became the DA mayor of the City of Johannesburg, a position I held for 3 years. During that time, I was committed to serving the people of Johannesburg to the best of my ability.


To do that, we had to have a clearly defined agenda. We had to begin with the end in mind and, know clearly, the kind of legacy we wished to leave behind.


By defining our priorities into 9 areas that were broken down into programmatic interventions, we would stabilise aged electricity, sewerage, road, and stormwater infrastructure, and improve the reliability of these services. 


We recognised the need to create positive conditions for economic growth and job creation in the city!


We would do this by improving the ease of doing business and creating an investment facilitation programme, as well as by offering extensive small business support through our Opportunity Centres.


We would roll back the housing backlog, but this required a diversified approach that included increasing the amount of affordable accommodation by forming partnerships with the private sector.


We would upgrade informal settlements and set up site and service projects that would give residents ownership of fully serviced stands on which they could build their own homes. 


We made access to primary healthcare a priority, and extended the operating hours of City clinics, while rolling out mobile clinics to service areas without brick and mortar infrastructure.


And we made public safety a high priority, by introducing more visible policing together with the use of criminal detection software, and the rollout of a CCTV camera network capability, across the city.


At the heart of all our interventions, was making the lives of the residents of the City of Johannesburg easier and more pleasant.


We dubbed our action plan, Diphetogo a Sesotho word meaning fundamental, transformational change, a promise which I continue to be committed to this day!


By the midpoint of my administration in May 2019, the results of our approach became visible.


By pursuing an expansive programme of refurbishing electricity substations, we were able to stabilise supply from 177 000 low-voltage outages year on year.


By replacing nearly 200 kilometres of aged waterpipes, the number of leaks and bursts in the water network, water supply-related issues declined from 45 000 to 37 000 per year.


Through an aggressive rollout of housing provision, we delivered over 7000 homes, comprising RDPs and the city’s affordable rental housing stock, to people who had been on the waiting list for more than a decade and issued well over 7500 title deeds.


The Inner-City Rejuvenation Project also began to show results.


By midterm, we had awarded 154 properties to the private sector, valued at thirty-two billion Rand, to build affordable housing for Johannesburg residents, students, and SMMEs.


We had identified over 500 buildings for such future developments. 


This was an action-oriented approach to delivering services to the residents of the City of Johannesburg that can be replicated nationwide!


By professionalising the public service, we can restore people’s confidence in the government!


The COVID-19 pandemic saw many countries globally, closing their borders, and placing their nations under national lockdowns that have led to devastating economic consequences, for large numbers of people around the world!


Many businesses the world over have been forced to close their doors.


In South Africa, the 6 months of the COVID-19 lockdown, afforded many of us time to bring into sharper focus, the great cost of continuing, to be led by an increasingly incompetent government at a time of an unprecedented global pandemic.


The COVID-19 pandemic, could not have hit our shores at a worse time, as our economy was and continues to perform poorly, having been downgraded to junk status by global rating agencies such as Moody’s.


Furthermore, the suspension of large sectors of the economy, has plunged us into further distress!


The knock-on effect has yielded devastating results that have led to the closure of multiple businesses, and the loss of income for many South African families.


The unemployment rate had, before COVID-19, reached an all-time high, with almost 39,7% of people of working age, not participating in the economy!


Unemployment, and a lack of innovative entrepreneurial opportunities, by and large, ladies and gentlemen, are destroying our country!


Over 10 million South Africans live without the dignity that comes with work, and millions more are projected to join their ranks post the COVID-19 pandemic.


Thousands of businesses are shutting their doors permanently, and, an even greater number are operating with a reduced staff complement, a situation bound to continue to worsen for the foreseeable future!


Just yesterday, Stats SA announced that the South African economy shed about 2.2 million jobs since the outbreak of COVID-19, and, that we can expect further 4 million people to lose their jobs by end of 2020.


That being the case, we face a South African reality with more unemployed people, than those employed by end of this year!

If this does not scare you, then, nothing will!

When people are unemployed and must rely on the state to survive, their dignity and self-worth are diminished!


A situation where children grow up not seeing their parents going to work, has a devastating impact on the family unit!


Having grown up in poverty myself, but later achieving financial success, I know first-hand, the power that comes with financial and economic independence.


This, is my dream for all South Africans!

It is natural then, under extreme socio-political and economic circumstances in which we find ourselves, for people to look to government to provide leadership!




Ours is not an environment that encourages entrepreneurial innovation and opportunity. The bureaucracy and corruption that budding entrepreneurs face when attempting to start a new business are tantamount to criminality!


For an example, during my 3-year stint as Executive Mayor of the City of Joburg, we uncovered over 6000 cases of fraud and corruption, to the value of R34 billion, and made 800 arrests, despite our criminal justice system being compromised.   


The cost of doing business in South Africa is high! 


Public officials expect bribes from businesspeople so that, they may gain access to various government and other business opportunities.


Our Labour market legislation is draconian, and protects the employed at the expense of the growing number of the unemployed.  Moreover, as it relates to SMME development. High levels of crime, make for an unattractive market for investment.


This, must change!


We should have a government that strives to make it progressively easier for entrepreneurs to start new businesses and thrive.


While there is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt an enormous blow to the global economy, however, the post-pandemic new normal has also brought with it new opportunities for us to reinvent ourselves, and imagine a new future, where every person in our country is gainfully participating in the economy.


The real question then is: is ours a government that has the political will, powered by ethical and courageous leaders who are committed to confronting the many challenges we face, and lead us out of the current global, social and economic mess we are in?


The answer, is an unequivocal NO!


Instead, we are held hostage by greedy, corrupt, and unethical politicians, who are incapable of making difficult choices, and making sound decisions for the benefit of the masses of our people!

It is for these and many other challenges affecting the people of South Africa that ActionSA was formed.


The launch of ActionSA signals the readiness of many South Africans to act, to take back the future of our country, and place it on a path to prosperity once again.


Having virtually launched on 29 August 2020, our new party is founded on seven Core Values:


We stand with the majority of South Africans for a non-racial society.


We are committed to social justice, the rule of law, and ethical leadership.


We believe that all citizens of our country should have access to quality education so that they can ultimately achieve economic prosperity. And finally, we believe in electoral reform.

Since launching ActionSA, we have been inundated with calls from multiple communities across the country, calling for our intervention, and, assist them to resolve the many challenges they face.


Just yesterday my team and I visited Mashishing, in Mpumalanga Province, to help assist young female police officers, new from the police academy, who have been sexually abused and intimidated by their superiors in the police force.


Now, if we are serious about gender-based violence in this country, how are ordinary women and children to be protected, and supported by the police, when the very police, are the perpetrators of violence in this way?


Well, not in our name!


What I know for sure is that, there is nothing as powerful in this world, than that moment when good people realise that they are the majority, and as a result, stand together to change the course of history, As One!


It is our view that we must act swiftly, and with immense urgency to repair our economy and subsequently alter the future trajectory of our country.


That is for us, a number 1 priority!


We will lead the revitalisation of the South African economy through a clear, decisive, and uncompromising implementation of sound policies, that will deliver the promise of a prosperous and a shared future.


We will reform current labour laws and end the stranglehold that trade unions have over our politics and our government.


Trade unions are a key stakeholder, just like any other, but they will not have a veto right over our economic and by extension, social destiny!


We must make it easier for businesses to hire more people because we cannot protect what will soon be a minority of employed people, at the expense of many unemployed people.


We will remove every barrier in the way of small business, and we will actively support their efforts toward making a meaningful contribution to our economy.


This can only lead to an environment where there are greater opportunities for more people to improve the material conditions of their lives. 


We will create one-stop-shops as we did in the City of Johannesburg, where small businesses can be optimally assisted, incubated and allowed to thrive.


We will ensure access to finance through government-insured loans, from commercial banks and, offer tax incentives to all small and medium enterprises.


We will establish free trade zones located near areas of high unemployment, and make South Africa an attractive place for international investment.


We will work in partnership with the private sector to ensure that every South African, who can work, has access to gainful employment. 


When I was growing up, I remember many industrial areas in Babelegi, Ga-Rankuwa, Mogwase, Qwa-Qwa, Seshego, and other places across the country buzzing with economic activity.


These state-owned industrial areas are full of factories that today lie empty, abandoned, and derelict. A sad reminder of an era when South Africa was one of the world’s most active manufacturing hubs.


In those days, and in those communities, the only people who did not work, were those who did not want to do so!


Today these communities sit with unemployment levels approaching 80%, and Youth who wander with no tangible plan as to how they intend to make a living and contribute, meaningfully, to society.


We want to work to change this!


We will draw from the successes of the Inner-City Rehabilitation Project in Johannesburg, and take abandoned factories, offer them to the private sector with incentives, recommission them, and employ people from the communities where they are situated.


We believe in the transformative power of education. Despite spending one of the highest percentages of our budget on education, our education system is ranked as one of the worst-performing school systems, particularly in the critical subjects of mathematics and science.


We will work toward and invest in high-quality education, and launch an education revolution in South Africa, with a new curriculum that raises a nation of employers, not just employees!


We will invest in focused Early Childhood Development education, to adequately prepare and equip every child in South Africa, early on in their educational journey.


Small business training and future skills development will be a key focus, to help prepare our youth to succeed in the future world of work, and beyond the 4th industrial revolution.


By restoring the rule of law, we will work tirelessly to ensure that the laws of our country are respected, and that all people who live in South Africa, abide by the law.


This is one of the essential requirements for restoring investor confidence, necessary to boost our economy, get us out of junk status, and set us up for a more prosperous socio-economic future.


It is disappointing that currently, our country has degenerated into a society where law-abiding citizens, live in fear, while the corrupt and the violent continue to live with impunity.


Our police force needs to be restructured to become a modern crime-fighting machine that can protect our people and restore faith in our law enforcement agencies.


The re-establishment of the crime-fighting unit that was the Scorpions, with even more independent powers, and authority from political interference, is going to be a top priority.   


And finally, it is my hope, that we will Act as One, to build a country that we envisioned at the dawn of our democracy.

A prosperous South Africa, where all citizens enjoy the fruit of their hard-won struggle, against all odds, under apartheid, rampant corruption, poverty, and inequality.


ActionSA offers South Africans hope in the face of our despair.


Thank you!