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Herman Mashaba is very critical of race based economic transformation policies, saying they will undermine economic growth and polarise society. He calls on government to amend the labour laws and to invest in good quality education. He says the current approach by government is undermining the job prospects of millions of young black South Africans. – Tim Modise
Herman Mashaba is with me on the transition slot here. We’re talking about your views, very controversial views, Herman Mashaba that you expressed recently, regarding affirmative action. You know in modern day, South Africa for a black person, for that matter to suggest that we should do away with affirmative action is travesty.
Well I think it’s interesting, Tim, to actually refer this statement as controversial. What is really, controversial when we all of us, we’re really trying so hard to save the future of our country. To ensure that I think we have an economy that is functional. An economy that can be inclusive and an economy that can really deal with the inequality that we’re finding ourselves in, as a country, and my view is that for us, as a country, to deal with this inequality is to deal with this joblessness. We can only really do this if we apply fairness in our system. As you are aware, Tim, we tried affirmative action programs the last ten years, and please don’t really ever obviously, I think misunderstand me by not really think I’m not for transformation of our country. Without any doubt, we need to really deal with these issues. The thing is the ‘how’, which is what I am actually talking about. My article was really, about coming out with a race based legislation. I’m saying for us, as a country, if we are not comfortable as South Africans to accept dealing with the racist policies of the National Party. I cannot really see and feel comfortable for me, as a South African, continuing again with race based policies and I believe that raced based policies is not going to be the solution, in really dealing with the economic challenges our country is facing.
Okay, all right, well the challenges are known, right? It’s unemployment, the high unemployment rate.
Inequality and poverty.
Generally, we all agree on those three, but there’s a historical basis that an argument can be made that informs the current policies of the Government, don’t you think?
Well, absolutely. That is why I am saying, Tim that there is no one committed to do transformation of our country than I am. I am equally committed to really ensuring that we see transformation. We deal with issues of inequality. What I feel uncomfortable about is to come out with legislation that discriminates against other people, because South Africa is signatory to the United Nations Convention on racism, so I’m saying is can’t we really use our intellect, God-given intellect, to really deal with these issues, without obviously really discriminating against other people.
All right, let me stay with the fact that you are informed more by that, so transformation – you are in support of, so how should it be implemented in South Africa?
Tim, just to, really give you a practical example of my involvement in ensuring that we see transformation. We see inequality being dealt with. You know, right now through the Free Market Foundation, my challenge to the Constitutionality of Section 32 of the Labour Relations Act. That piece of Legislation that is destroying small businesses in this country. Particularly small business. An issue that’s preventing, literally preventing eight-and-a-half million South Africans from being employed, so there are other issues. I’m saying, “Can we really deal with them? “ The issue around education, you know. If we as South Africans believe that we can transform the economy of this country by coming out with racist based legislation, it can only destroy this country. What we do is let’s look for a long-term solution to this country’s issues. One of the issues that I believe we need to really deal with is education. Really, look at it 21 years down the line. The Public Education System in our country, honestly and truly leaves a lot to, really be desired. We should really be saying let’s really look at 15 to 20 years down the line. Can we really invest in true education of our children, so that in 15 to 20 years down the line we can have engineers, we can have accountants, we can have great lawyers, so for as long as South Africa and South Africans we ignore such long-term investments in our people. When we look for this short-term solutions thinking that our empowerment is going to happen when whites do it for us. I strongly believe that would be making a terrible mistake and, really I strongly believe that when people started, in South Africa, we started talking about empowerment initiatives when the new South Africa was born. I believe people had noble ideas and noble intentions, but at the end of the day, look at the devastating effects of what really happened over the last 21 years. We sit with an economy that’s underperforming. We sit with an education system that is largely, not really empowering our people. We sit with high unemployment, so am I still interested in getting to share this declining pie with white people? I’m saying, as South Africans let us focus on really growing this economy but, unfortunately, we’re growing this economy in a sustainable manner. We need sacrifice and really sacrifice. As I said, and I repeat Tim, let us ensure that our people are employed. Let us ensure that we deal with this high unemployment. Let us ensure and make sure that our people are given the right type of education. That can really give them real empowerment that nobody can take away from them, but sharing this declining cake, for me, and really do it in a manner, where we use racism as a vehicle. I strongly believe that South Africa will be making a terrible mistake.
Now, what about the view that the ownership patterns in the country, of the economy, are the problem and that is why we need to have Black Economic Empowerment.
Absolutely, Tim, we tried this over the last 21 years. What’s really happening to our country today, to our economy? You know, today if you really look at the economic performance of our country, we’re actually pulling and really putting a strain on Africa because our economic growth, it’s not really going to grow this pie. The economic performance of our country is not going to empower black people long-term. What we, we can only employ our people when we can start seeing an economy that is growing at five percent +, otherwise we won’t be able to address this high unemployment. We won’t be able to, really address this inequality. Yes, we can come out with any sort of legislation to, really take away from whites, but the thing is we will take away from whites a declining economy and we believe we’re looking for that kind of transformation.
So ownership then, the ownership patterns in the country. How should they be reversed or, at least, how can more blacks be accommodated in the economic system, as owners and creators of wealth?
Well, I think let us really use a carrot approach, in terms of encouraging and incentivising companies to, really embrace transformation and really working together, and I think we had in 1994, under Mandela’s leadership, we did not really have legislation that discriminated against anyone, and what happened? Everyone actually embraced this ‘Rainbow Nation’ concept. Yes, he only had five years to, really run this country. We needed the leadership that could have taken from Mandela, when he stepped down, to make sure that we pushed this because during Mandela’s reign, we had real transformation. Not in law but when people who had the incentives, Mandela going around and asking, and really, it was to some extent, forcing the big business to, really build schools in our communities. Embracing black people in their structures. At the same time, really focusing on really building a normal type of society, so you don’t necessarily have to really do or use punitive measures to achieve the results, and that’s really what I’m really saying to myself is that ‘if South Africa continues on using punitive measures to thinking that we’ll find solutions to our problems’. Unfortunately, our economy can only suffer from that.
There is a view that President Thabo Mbeki’s leadership of the country that transformation took place in the economy. That it became entrenched and people made money, became wealthy, and then owned important assets and participation meaningful, in the financial services sector, for instance. More women appointed to boards, and more black people beginning to own substantial wealth, as well as interests in companies. What’s your view of the Mbeki era?
Yes, absolutely, if that’s really, what happened, that is what we really need to really encourage but, at the same time, let us really do it in such a manner that I think we respect the Constitution of this country? We respect and actually recognise the fact that we need to, really build a normal society. I don’t want the future generations of this country to still inherit a country divided along racial lines, and I think we cannot really talk about normalising society, when we have in our Statute Book, raced based Legislation. As I said to you, South Africa is a signatory to the UN Convention, against racism and, Tim… One thing that I really want all of us, as South Africans to recognise and accept. The fact that for us to really achieve and attend the independence, the freedom that we’re enjoying today. The international community assisted us with it gave us massive help, the Europeans, the Americans, people all over the world. They rallied around and ensuring that South Africans normalise our country. The world did not really help us to come out with another racism, so what I’m saying is that let us ensure that we apply these policies, this transformation. Let us achieve it by not really discriminating against others, because a raced based legislation will polarise us even further, and I think we will really be doing injustice to future generations of this country.
There’s an argument that the economic make-up of the country itself, is what is polarising this nation.
Yes, precisely. Then how do you then expect to, really correct that situation, by getting whites to overnight share with us this declining cake? I’m saying is we, (as black people) we need to, really take personal responsibility. Yes, working with our white counterparts, working with all South Africans to ensure that we normalise the situation, going forward, but I’m appealing… I think its people tend to really make the mistake, not to obviously really focusing on my report. I’m not really against the transformation and dealing with these issues. You know, I spend a lot of my time and money, in ensuring that I think, South Africans, black business, small ones for that matter. Unemployed South Africans are given an opportunity to work, and run businesses.
Practically, what should transformation look like? What needs to happen? What should be done?
Tim, let us invest, firstly as I said, let us allow small businesses in this country not to be subjected to this draconian Labour Legislation that we’ve implemented the last 20 years of our democracy. I mean, you don’t really need to retaliate. We have enough scientific evidence, proving that how labour legislation in this country has destroyed small business, particularly small business. Let us allow the unemployed South Africans to, really decide for themselves who they work for, how much they are prepared to accept. You know, Tim, I was Xhosa born and I grew up in a Hammanskraal, Babelegi Industrial Area. You know Ga-Rankuwa Industrial Area. In my community, as much as people were not happy with how much they were earning, but you know what, people in Hammanskraal, who did not work are those who did not want to work. What happens in an environment like that, where parents work for their families and their children? You have family stability but today, you go to Hammanskraal. We’re currently sitting in a country with unemployment just under 36 percent. As you can imagine, with people in Hammanskraal, unemployment is much higher. Who are the biggest victims of this high unemployment? Our black youth. You know the Institute of Race Relations, two to three weeks ago, released a report, showing that how the percentage of black youth are unemployed. Kids of 14 to 15, to 25, 79 percent of black boys are not working – 68 percent of black girls are not really working. Is it a normal kind of a situation? Twenty-nine percent are prison population, being our youth. Why because we’re not providing them good education, we’re not giving them an opportunity to, really work and now how can we really then say, “We’re serious about transformation”? “We’re serious about ensuring that these are the kids that, one day must really run this country and this economy, when we’re not, obviously really providing them with a necessary education.” An education is not something that we can achieve overnight. It is not something that we can expect white people to give it to us. We’re the ones who are running the Government today. Let us ensure that in Hammanskraal, in Ramotse, in Ga-Rankuwa. We’re serious about the education of our children. It’s something that we stated at university level. I would like in every street, in Ga-Rankuwa, or Hammanskraal in Ramotse to really have early-child learning centres, so that kids, by the time, they reach university, when they’re 16/17. They’re ready to really actually face this university, so these are the challenges that I’m saying is, as South Africans, we’re not really focusing on. We just think that we can empower us when whites actually share with us, and I’m not really for one saying that whites should not really share with us, but it should not really be our key priority.
How do you rate the Government’s performance, the current Government, under President Zuma, in bringing about transformation? What’s your take of what you see?
Well, I think for me it’s really, we’ve really been a disaster as a country, in terms of transformation because we really focus on coming out with legislation. Instead of really coming out with creative ways of really, uniting this nation. I personally feel that, I think we’ve really dismally failed the last few years of our democracy. Particularly the last five to six years, because what we’re doing is we intensify these raced based policies. That are going to polarise us even further. We’re not really thinking to use our God-given talent, to ensure that, I think, we can normalise our situation. Look at Mandela’s tender. We’re, in 1994, taking and just coming out of prison. I think we were really, extremely fortunate, as a country to have someone like that as a leader. You know asking us to, really focus on the future, he said, ‘what has happened, my 27 years in jail, I can’t reverse. It has happened. I think, let’s really focus on the future’. What happened, Tim, in the process? All (or most) of us in South Africa embraced what Mandela taught us, (or was teaching us) and the international community embraced South Africa and Mandela. Why do you think Mandela received such a warm, exceptional reception from the world? Because he was a remarkable man, who had the foresight. He wasn’t really doing it for his future, I mean for his past. He realised, “You know what guys? What has happened it has happened. My focus is to ensure that, I think, I can get future generations of this country to inherit a freer society, and a normal society, and that warmed the hearts and minds of the world. You know, during Mandela’s period in this country, economic growth in this country – there’s one period where we enjoyed a seven percent GDP growth, why? Mandela wasn’t a good administrator but he was a great leader that could inspire the nation to, really look forward, and that is really what this country unfortunately, misses today. Someone who can really ensure that all of us in South Africa and South Africans, and really come out with creative ways to, actually get us to really be one united nation, and I think we are dismally failing. We focus on really dividing us, along racial lines, than actually focusing on the future of this country.
Herman Mashaba, thank you very much for talking to us.
Thank you very much for the opportunity.