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Fighting Poverty through economic growth
ISBN 9 781928 257059
You can almost invariably trust African-American stand-up comedian Chris Rock to deliver a gaffe a minute but there are times, many times, when he serves as a mirror upon which the US society reflects itself.
In one of his hard-hitting moments he quips: “I used to work at McDonald’s making minimum wage. You know what that means when someone pays you minimum wage? You know what your boss was trying to say? ‘Hey if I could pay you less, I would, but it’s gonna be against the law.’”
Local businessman and, in his own words, an avowed capitalist, Herman Mashaba, is not in the business of making people roll about in mirth. He means business.
Mashaba has strong views on the concept of the minimum wage.
“COSATU would have us believe that a minimum wage would increase economic growth and that the International Monetary Fund’s suggestion that labour unions should commit to ‘wage restraint’ is misguided. These are fallacious notions. Far from being a boost to job creation, the minimum wage is a major deterrent to job creation. If we were to adopt the proposal by COSATU’s Patrick Craven that higher wages will bring about higher economic growth by stimulating consumer sales, we’d be in serious trouble. If we take this argument and pass a law that says every worker must be paid R20 000 a month, how many businesses could maintain that expense? How many people would still have jobs? Common sense tells us that a wage at that level would cause massive job losses. It also tells us that at any level, an enforced minimum wage would cause some degree of unemployment. By enforcing a minimum wage, all the government is doing is prohibiting employment and enforcing poverty.”
Mashaba is not joking. He took the effort to put this view down in a book. Given the shelf-life of a book, this is not a spur-of-the-moment faux pas, it is a view Mashaba has made into a mantra.
The book Capitalist Crusader, Fighting poverty through economic growth, comes after his assisted biography Black Like You.
Mashaba is the founder of the giant hair care products company Black Like Me (Pty) Ltd.
His sparse vocabulary stops him short of advocating for a slave wage throughout the 206 pages of the book. But, as Chris Rock says of bosses paying the minimum wage, he could if he would – only it will be against the law.
He says further of the subject under discussion: “The minimum-wage legislation precludes unskilled labour from ever knowing what it’s like to be employed. By enforcing a minimum wage, the government has excluded unskilled workers from ever being employed. It cuts them off at the knees, and they will never be able to climb onto the ladder of employment. If the government had an ounce of compassion, it would allow people the freedom to negotiate what they are prepared to work for, so that they can become self-sufficient and improve their skills so as to work their way up to higher-paying positions. It is inhuman to prevent people from working.”
This capitalist, who says that the business of business is profit, does not entirely succeed at displaying this ‘compassion’ for workers and their best interests. He abhors unionisation, the very rock on which decent salaries are founded. His rigid stance makes one wonder where the worker’s best interests have ever been served under circumstances were a job contract was concluded between a desperate job-seeker and a slave-driver hell-bent on maximising profits, by hook or by crook.
He finds the chutzpah to decry ‘low wages in the civil service, such as in the metropolitan police departments’.
Mashaba says ‘public employees feel underpaid’ but nowhere in the book does he say if, Black Like Me, for argument sake, pays better wages.
He says ‘I’m a businessman, I know that business wants’, rolling off a long list of prerequisites. Among these he says ‘business needs a skilled labour force that is productive and efficient’.
But nowhere does he offer the insight into how this is created, except by the vague suggestion that people should ‘work themselves up’ in the sweat shops he and his ilk have created. Paying them what they are worth is not a path he strays into.
He avoids it like the proverbial plague.
This is a book of politics, at least the disturbing politics of one man. His pernicious views are not confined to the minimum wage.
A card-carrying member of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), Mashaba is a latter-day apartheid apologist.
Isn’t the problem with the governing party, Mashaba asks, in that, after 20 years we’re ‘finally seeing what white people had been afraid of when the ANC came to power – that the white population would be side-lined in every sphere of society?’
His only problem with Affirmative Action (AA) is worrying: “One of the policies most harmful to business is affirmative action. It not only prevents people being employed on merit – it cuts out 10% of our population from competing fairly to be employed.”
One could have been living under a rock for a considerable period of time but this reviewer does not remember when exactly aggrieved whites asked Mashaba to be their spokesman.
He gets on the bandwagon of exaggerating the crime situation in the country, seeing it through the prism of the so-called western investors. “… in the Mumbai slums. Although I walked through the Indian city at all hours of the day and night, at no stage did I feel threatened, intimidated or insecure in the same way that I would have had I been in a South African city.”
The cover of his book shows him negotiating a claustrophobic path between shacks in an informal settlement. Wonder how big his security detail was on the trip given that he never feels safe in any of our cities.
Or perhaps the cover was merely for show!
If he’d taken time to speak to residents in the squatter settlement on the face of his book, he’d not be slamming social grants the way he does. He calls them ‘social failures’, a ‘disgrace’ that ‘make absolutely no contribution to upliftment’.
Had he sought their views, he’d have heard that whole families survive on social grants.
He lambastes the feeding scheme in schools, saying parents send their kids to school ‘to be educated, not fed’. But he is blind to the acknowledgment that for the vast majority of these children, the feeding scheme gives them their only meal of the day.
His politics has the tone and feel of the problematic house nigger of African-American history.
In his deposition that ‘Memory is the Weapon’, celebrated poet and national treasure Don Mattera is not likely to be speaking the language of Mashaba and the general black African DA members.
In their selective forgetfulness, the DA member in South Africa cannot be relied upon to help fashion ‘public memory of apartheid’. They will sanitise a whole narrative of the heresy, rightly declared a crime against humanity.
Stranger things have happened before but this is unlikely to raise eyebrows inside any literary prize committee briefing.
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