What does new Jo'burg mayor Herman Mashaba stand for?

Mashaba rejects political patronage and racial divisiveness. (Madelene Cronjé)

Mashaba rejects political patronage and racial divisiveness. (Madelene Cronjé)

The Democratic Alliance’s Herman Mashaba was on Tuesday  elected as Johannesburg’s new mayor.

Mashaba had announced his availability in December, saying the fiasco involving former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene had finally forced him to enter politics. But his first experience of campaigning was not a pleasant one, as his stance on black economic empowerment (BEE) drew a great deal of public criticism.

In January, the Mail & Guardian’s Matuma Letsoalo spoke to Mashaba about his stance on BEE and other issues and what we can expect if he is elected.

The DA has been working hard to increase its support among black voters. Don’t you think your stance on BEE will cost the party votes in the elections?
I am not against black economic empowerment. I am not happy with it in its current form, where only a few politically connected individuals benefit. I am for redress. For me, that’s not negotiable. My problem is when the ANC uses that to divide us along racial lines or uses it for political patronage.

How would you have dealt with the imbalances of the past if you were given the chance?
First, I would make sure we have an economy that is growing [with] policies that can kick-start economic development. We need policies that can benefit ordinary people in the townships. I don’t want policies that will benefit me as Herman Mashaba. I don’t qualify. We left many of our people behind.  We don’t need policies that benefit politically connected individuals. It hurts me to see how this is affecting our people in the townships.

Is it unfair that some believe you are anti-black empowerment?
For me, the empowerment of our people is non-negotiable. As I speak to you now, I am in Norway to address business to give support to our project, which involves the development of 6 500 kids from the townships in South Africa.

I am not doing this for my own kids. This is for the kids of our country. Most of those who are benefiting from the project are black. Each year, we bring five kids to Norway to learn different skills. I have been doing this for the past 12 years. I spend my own money for this.

I don’t just talk, but I do things. This is why I am against policies that divide us along racial lines. Are we not supposed to build the country the way Nelson Mandela taught us? 

Would you say we should forget what happened in the past and move forward with our lives?
When we use this in too-strong racial terms, we not going anywhere. Take BEE verification agencies, for example. They are there to harass us as black people. Every year we have to do audits, verify and confirm that I am black. This reminds me of apartheid when the previous regime tried to divide us along racial lines.

When we [the DA] take over, we will remove any policy that does not add value to our economy. When I get into government, I will ensure people from Alexandra and Soweto benefit from our policies. We can’t continue to have people from Alexandra eaten by rats.

When there are opportunities, I must be able to say to whites: “Go to Alexandra and partner with our people” on certain projects. Today, our government forces us to do business with certain individuals. I don’t think this is the South Africa we want to live in.

You have been quoted as saying: “If I have the powers to remove all laws and policies that classified me as a black human being, I would do it tomorrow.” Why are you refusing to be identified as black?
In fact, I will do it [changing the law] as soon as yesterday. As long as it’s a law that seeks to divide us along racial lines. For example, I do not understand why the ANC is saying [President Jacob] Zuma is a victim of racism because of the Zuma Must Fall poster in Cape Town.

If I say to people: “Let’s use our votes to make sure Zuma falls”, how is that racism? If they [the ANC] believe voting Zuma out is racism, then that’s unfortunate. Zuma and the ANC think they are doing us a favour by governing us.

What will be your campaign strategy to win Johannesburg?
I am going to spend a lot of effort on voter education. People must understand that voting is the most powerful asset they have. Right now, our people are disempowered. That’s why [Water Affairs Minister] Nomvula Mokonyane can afford to tell people: “We don’t need your dirty votes.” We also want to assure civil servants that, under the DA, there is no need to feel threatened. The civil servants are currently being harassed by political masters. They must understand that their bosses are not politicians, but voters and the people of Jo’burg. Under the DA, we will encourage a civil society that holds us accountable.

One of the biggest problems the country is currently facing is unemployment. What do you think needs to be done to create more jobs?
This is going to be one of the key priorities. We urgently need small business development. We need to be a business-friendly city. This way, they [business] will pay more tax to the city and employ our people. We will encourage businesses to make profit and we will give them awards for that. We need money to revive Alexandra and Diepsloot.

We are also going to make sure that tender processes are transparent and benefit small businesses. At the same time, I want them [small businesses] to know that they must deliver services when they are given government contracts. So all of us must take responsibility.

If you were elected mayor of Johannesburg, what would be your first priority?
It would be the implementation of all the things I promised during my election campaign. I will make sure I improve the morale of civil servants in my first 100 days in office. I want them to wake up with pride that we are going to work. I am confident we will win Jo’burg with an outright majority.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo


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