SUNDAY TIMES - Mashaba on Joburg mayoral race: ‘Zuma made me do it’
Sunday Times News By MONICA LAGANPARSAD, 2016-01-31 00:05:00.0

Mashaba on Joburg mayoral race: ‘Zuma made me do it’

Herman Mashaba at his home in Atholl, with his wife, Connie, and daughter, Khensani

He is a political rookie and, audaciously, he is eyeing the post of Johannesburg mayor. Herman Mashaba doesn't need the R1.2-million pay cheque that comes with running the country's economic hub.

He has enough of that thanks to an empire built on the back of Black Like Me, a haircare range that turned him into a household name.

But can the 56-year-old, who has been put forward as the DA's mayoral candidate, unseat ANC heavyweight Parks Tau to claim the city for the opposition?

Can he capture voters in Bruma or Eldorado Park - or on East Avenue, Atholl, the wealthy northern suburb enclave where he has lived for the past 20 years?

More importantly, does Mashaba have what it takes to strike a chord with millions of residents of Soweto, Diepsloot or Alexandra?

Easy, he declares. "I'm a civil servant and not a politician ... the people who were voted in have proved that they are not working for the masses, they are working for themselves," says Mashaba in a general reference to public concerns about corruption.

But his foray into politics has had a bumpy start, with controversial comments about BEE.

"A commissioner of oaths has to confirm that I am black? That's all I was saying. Why do I have to prove that I'm black? This was taken out of context."

For now, Mashaba is wildly confident about his chances to clinch the mayoral role in the upcoming local government elections.

His early campaign mantra covers, well, kind of everything: job creation, a happier civil service in the city, tackling crime and drugs.

A helicopter emblazoned with ‘Black Like Me’ branding draws a crowd Image: Supplied

He even has an ambitious plan to lure international investors.

"I will go all over the world to look for investors to come to [Johannesburg].

"Let them come and make money. The beauty of it is that they will pay taxes, employ people and we will have a vibrant economy."

He has much time since resigning from his positions on various boards - Connie, his wife of 34 years, has taken over the reins.

The father of two seemed invigorated, even after a long night of pre-election work in nearby Alexandra.

He barely touches breakfast - featuring a spread of fruit and salmon and cottage cheese sarmies.

He is preparing to go to Diepsloot with campaign manager Mike Moriarty, a DA veteran.

''Mike is proving to be an invaluable asset to me, providing DA political guidance and support," says Mashaba.

Connie, quiet but active in the background, says politics is unfamiliar terrain to this family. When Mashaba announced he was joining the DA, she knew something was about to change.

"As a family we support him - but we didn't sign up for politics. He's pulled all of us into this ... but we have to do what is right for all South Africans," says Connie.

She is quick to point out that her only involvement in politics dates back to around the '90s, when she volunteered at voter registration stations for the ANC.

Similarly, Mashaba admits he has no "struggle" credentials.

Most of his early years were spent building his business empire that now boasts interests in haircare, property and mining, among others.

His children, 21-year-old Khensani and 18-year-old Rhulani, are also batting for him.

Khensani, a graduate of the AAA School of Advertising, says that the minute her father announced his DA membership, she knew there was more to it.

She is off to study marketing at Carthage College in Wisconsin later this year.

Even though his name was first touted as the party's mayoral candidate in October, Mashaba said he made himself available after President Jacob Zuma's controversial axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in December.

That moment, he says, changed his life because he worried about the impact of the president's decision on the economy.

Mashaba and US politician Hillary Clinton share a moment in matching attire. Image: Supplied

"I'm afraid that I've already taken a decision as a South African that I'm not going to sit in Zuma's bus as the driver is about to collapse - to sit back and watch when I have a chance to stop it."

His first change in office would be to improve morale among civil servants. By looking after them, he believes, he would get more out of them.

For now, he is running between meetings, getting in touch with communities and seeing the "devastating circumstances our people live in".

As Mashaba kisses his wife and daughter goodbye before heading out the door, Connie jokes : ''I thought I'd be playing golf."