Success Story

How a Black South African turned a small loan from a friend during apartheid into a multimillion-dollar empire

Herman Mashaba is a South African entrepreneur and politician. He founded the Black Like Me skincare company during the height of apartheid when it was nearly impossible for Blacks to operate a business.

In addition to apartheid, Mashaba grew up in poverty in Ga-Ramotse in the northern parts of Pretoria. His mother lived in Johannesburg and worked as a domestic worker to feed him and his siblings. His father on the other hand passed away when he was still young.

“I was born and brought up in an area where we had no role models. I lost my dad at age two,” he told How We Made It in Africa. “My mother, when I started seeing what was happening around me, was working as a domestic worker in Johannesburg. So I was brought up initially without having immediate parents around. So I don’t believe I really have anyone who I can say shaped my life and my business career.”

Due to financial challenges at home, his elder brother dropped out of school but Mashaba persisted against all odds to continue his education as he saw it as the most viable way of breaking the poverty cycle in his family.

After completing Ratshepo High School in 1978, he continued to the University Of The North but could not complete it due to a massive protest that led to the school being closed down, according to entrepreneurhubSA.

Following the closure of the school, he picked up employment as a clerk at Spar and then at a furniture manufacturer. He later worked as a salesperson at SuperKurl hair care products and in less than a year, became their top consultant in the company.

But Mashaba wanted to be more than just a salesperson. He wanted to be his own boss. He identified a white partner, Johan Kriel, then a top chemist for SuperKurl, as a business partner. With a loan of R30 000 (now $1,700), he launched the Black Like Me skin company on Valentine’s day in 1985. He repaid the loan in less than eight months and today, he has built a multi-million dollar conglomerate. 

He sold his cosmetic products on the street from his car before gradually building a multimillion enterprise. According to entrepreneurhubSA, Mashaba diversified his investments, launched other businesses, and sat on the boards of many companies while traveling the world.

Aside from being an astute businessman, Mashaba is also a politician. He is the founder and president of ActionSA political party. He also served as the mayor of Johannesburg and quit his position in 2019.

Abu Mubarik

Abu Mubarik is a journalist with years of experience in digital media. He loves football and tennis.

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