ROAD TO LOCAL ELECTIONS INTERVIEW
Action SA’s Herman Mashaba: Unapologetic about stance on foreigners and driven to wear Joburg’s mayoral chain again
During his tenure as DA mayor of Joburg, Herman Mashaba was harshly criticised for his actions and views on migrants. Almost two years since his dramatic exit from office, he is angling to reclaim the city as head of a new party, Action SA, which will contest elections for the first time in the local government polls. What is top of his mind? Tackling ‘illegal foreign nationals’ in the city. In an interview at his home in Atholl, Sandton, the oft-criticised populist politician spells out his game plan.
When his late grandfather named him Highman, he obviously envisaged bigger things for Action SA leader Herman Mashaba. “I meant everything in his life. When I was born, he told the whole community,” said Mashaba. “For my grandfather, failure wasn’t an option.”
These are the same ambitious values that saw the entrepreneur’s sudden rise in politics, and saw him through a tumultuous three years as mayor under the tutelage of the DA. They have kept him rooted in his beliefs, despite harsh criticism.
Almost two years after he resigned as a DA member and mayor, Mashaba speaks confidently about defeating the ANC in the 2021 local government elections in the Joburg metro.
As he hits the campaign trail, Mashaba maintains his stance on illegal migrants is non-negotiable, particularly the occupation of buildings. “I have unfinished business. I mean, the inner city, we need to reclaim it and allow the private sector to build affordable accommodation. We have to get rid of illegal foreigners. I mean, this matter is not negotiable, it is in our Constitution,” he told Daily Maverick.
Explaining why illegal immigrants (his reference to undocumented migrants) are on his radar, Mashaba said: “How can anyone expect South Africa to take care of people of the world when 12 million of our own people are unemployed and desperate? So, I’m saying this is something that we must not shy away from discussing. I say we must discuss it and brutally so. And when we do, we must be honest with one another.
“I don’t want to live in a country where foreign nationals come and open hairdressing salons and spaza shops. No. Those opportunities are for South Africans. For foreign nationals to come and work in restaurants and drive taxis and trucks, no ways. Not when we have 45% unemployment. Not a chance… And I’m not going to apologise to anyone.”
Action SA’s targets
The party is targeting primarily Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with a major push in the Joburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane metros. It also plans to contest all 111 wards in the eThekwini municipality.
Mashaba said they would use “our limited resources” to entice the millions who did not vote in the previous elections.
“We are looking for an outright win [in the three metros of Gauteng]. I’m not in this business to be in opposition. No… my goodness… How will I change the lives of people? Honestly, we are in it for an outright win.”
Does wanting an outright win mean that he has no coalition strategy? “We do have a coalition strategy. “In the event coalitions become necessary, we are prepared to work with any other party except the ANC and ATM. I will never work with the ANC. I will never work with criminals.”
Mashaba dismissed the ATM as an extension of the ANC.
He claimed most of the problems in the city and the country stemmed from corruption perpetrated by the ANC. “I was born and raised in a village where there was no collection of refuse. People are living in what the ANC calls the world-class African city, but you look at the filth around the people. Even in my village… we did not live among such filth.”
Roots in Hammanskraal
Mashaba was born Herman Samtseu Phillip Mashaba on 26 August 1959 in GaRamotse, Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria. Following decades of great entrepreneurial success, he found himself caught up in South Africa’s often bumpy political ride and ascended to the Joburg mayoral seat on 22 August 2016 through a DA-led coalition.
Mashaba resigned as a DA member and mayor in October 2019 after Helen Zille was elected chairperson of the party’s federal council.
“When I left the DA we had differences because they thought I was going to become a party animal and service only white areas. And I tolerated their nonsense which reached a stage where they started having this Helen league planning to capture the party,” said Mashaba.
“They wanted me out because they were not happy with my mission of bringing black people into the mainstream of our economy.”
Fast-tracking service delivery
Mashaba said his party would fast-track service delivery, and to do it effectively they needed to get rid of ANC cadres. “If I look at it the first time around, I got rid of many ANC cadres in top administration without the experience that I have now. They think they can work from Luthuli House and claim a salary from the city. There were many of them. People who were there to sabotage my administration. We are going to do lifestyle audits because we know they live far beyond their means.”
Joburg five years from now
Mashaba said it was impossible to turn the city around in five years — it would require 10, 15 or even 20. A study he conducted when he was mayor uncovered a R170-billion infrastructure backlog, with only R8-billion in the kitty to deal with it. More than 181 informal settlements lacked basic services such as electricity, ablution facilities and water.
“We had an over 300,000 housing backlog, with the city attracting 3,000 people every month because obviously the rural economy was disintegrating, the borders were open, so you can imagine,” said Mashaba. He planned to continue the inner-city rejuvenation project he launched, which he said was key to improving conditions in the city.
‘My critics can go to hell’
On 1 December 2016, Mashaba announced his campaign to reclaim hijacked buildings in the inner city. He said the media said he hated foreigners and “called me names”.
“We went after the abandoned and hijacked buildings and expropriated them. That’s why I don’t understand when people want to change our current Constitution because it allows for expropriation of any building or land as long as it is for public use.
“To hell with them. They are not going to distract me. If they want to criticise me then let them criticise the authors of our Constitution. That’s how strong I feel. These are the people who do not respect the rule of law and who support criminality.
“Honestly, as South Africans we must not be distracted by people who benefit out of criminality at the expense of South Africans. I do not understand how a person can be called a human rights advocate but their claim is actually to support illegal foreign nationals and South Africans are not part of their agenda… That’s why I say they can go to hell.”
The damage of cadre deployment
Mashaba said corruption was the city’s number-one enemy, and his party had been vocal against cadre deployment within the ANC. He told Daily Maverick the city was at the centre of State Capture by the Gupta family. “It was the epicentre. Under Geoff Makhubo and Parks Tau… they were some of the people with a relationship with Regiments and the Guptas, including giving away that piece of land where the Sandton Gautrain station is. They gave it to the Guptas for nothing.
“I switched off the water in 2019 and they tried to take me to court instead of supporting us. Regiments were given the title deed for the land without paying a cent.”
IEC’s bid to postpone elections
Mashaba said the Independent Electoral Commission’s application to the Constitutional Court to postpone the 27 October local elections had given him sleepless nights. The IEC had applied to the court following a recommendation by a task team led by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke after it had consulted widely and found that the elections would not be free or fair under Covid lockdown restrictions.
Mashaba, however, accused the IEC of not being impartial. “They are supposed to be a Chapter 9 independent body but they allowed the ANC to dictate to them and manipulate them instead of putting measures in place to run free and fair elections,” he said.
Interviewed before the court ruling on Friday, which dismissed the IEC’s application for a postponement, Mashaba said the IEC had faced a double whammy: “If they allow a postponement of the elections that would be unfortunate, but if they don’t, the IEC has already compromised our system because many people were never given the opportunity to register.”
Mashaba describes joblessness as a “painful situation”, with the latest Stats SA figures showing that there were 1.3 million unemployed in Joburg.
The party will campaign on an employment strategy that includes denying trade unions a veto right over economic policy. It has said fundamental reform of labour laws is needed to make it easier to hire unemployed South Africans.
“We believe in the free market where we want the private sector to drive the economy. We are a country who have turned young girls into pensioners. Young people should be working,” said Mashaba.
In June, Mashaba announced that Action SA would ask registered voters, through its website, to select mayoral candidates in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni for party primaries.
Mashaba told Daily Maverick the test in the three major metros had gone very well, and he was among three possible candidates for Joburg. “It’s one of our core values… I put my hat in the ring and the people of Johannesburg voted for me,” he said, adding that he had received 94% of the votes from a pool of 22,000 people.
Action SA has announced that Abel Tau is the candidate for Tshwane and Letlhogonolo Moseki for Ekurhuleni.
In other areas the party is contesting — such as eThekwini, KwaDukuza and Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal — Mashaba said there was not enough time to run popular-vote primaries. The party had put trust in former ANC MP and now Action SA KZN leader, Makhosi Khoza, under whose jurisdiction these areas are to make the processes as open as possible.
Mashaba said he made a mistake by joining the DA in the belief it would unseat the ANC. That task now rests on his and Action SA’s fledgling shoulders.
“If the ANC will still be in power in 2024 then South Africa may as well forget. If we happen to reach 2030, we will find ourselves fleeing our own country like the Afghans.” DM)
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