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Excerpt from Black Like You: Herman Mashaba Recalls His First Car – a R6 800 Toyota Corolla

Black Like YouBlack Like You is the autobiography of Black Like Me founder, businessman and esteemed subject of the 21 Icons Project, Herman Mashaba.

In the extract, Mashaba describes the pivotal moment so many people who live in Gauteng will be able to appreciate: the day you exchange public transport for your own car.

Mashaba and his wife Connie take a trip to Pretoria where a friend gives him a nice deal on a brand new, shiny blue Toyota Corolla. The budding entrepreneur doesn’t have a driver’s licence yet, but he’s seen how taxi drivers manoeuvre the city streets, so it can’t be that difficult, right?

The author depicts the moment he drove his first car from Pretoria to Hammanskraal, the fear, the joy … and driving into a pole.

* * * * * * * *

Although I was engaged, my friends still perceived me as an untiring party animal, and while Connie never objected to my socialising, I felt that I had outgrown that delinquent stage of my life. I was ready to embrace adulthood and its responsibilities.
    But my friends refused to let me off the hook so easily.
    “Come on, Herman, what’s the matter with you, aren’t you allowed to go out and have fun with us any more?” they asked.
    “Is Connie the one who is boss in your house?”
    I was happy to agree that Connie ruled our relationship, because I had a plan. With Connie earning an income, the time seemed ripe for me to break away from the nine-to-five, mind numbing work at Motani Industries. I hoped to find a job in sales, where my earnings would reflect the effort and number of hours I put in; the allure of big commissions was tempting. But to be a salesman, I knew that I needed transport. And almost nobody in our village owned a car.
    I started saving again. I was well aware that my partying friends would commandeer any car I cared to buy, so having Connie at my side was the perfect excuse. Every man knew that once you were in a relationship, the woman called the shots; I would be expected to calm down and spend more time at home instead of partying.
    Feeling confident of my plans, I shared my ideas with Connie.
    “I want to look for a job where I can earn commission.” I took her hand in mine, and said, “I could earn high and I know that the work I put in will show when I get my cheque at the end of the month.”
    Connie looked at me a while before saying, “Ja. It sounds like a good plan. But what sector are you thinking of – cars, insurance, direct clothing?”
    “I am not sure,” I admitted, “but I know something will come my way.”
    Connie listened carefully as I outlined my dreams of being properly rewarded for hard work, and she eventually agreed that I should leave Motani. I was careful not to share everything with her, though. I feared that her common sense would prevail, and that she might try to delay my plans.
    One Saturday morning, I woke her up early.
    ”Get yourself dressed, Connie, we’re going shopping,” I said as I leapt out of bed.
    We enjoyed regular trips to Pretoria, where we usually did some window-shopping before having lunch at Captain Doregos. However, when we arrived in Pretoria that morning, I steered Connie away from the city streets and shop windows, and led her towards the taxi rank. There, we caught a taxi to Laudium.
    “Why are we going to Laudium?” Connie asked, a frown of disappointment on her face.
    “We’re going to look at some cars,” I said.
    ”Isn’t that premature? You can’t even drive yet,” she said, doubt narrowing her eyes.
    I didn’t allow Connie’s practicality to dissuade me, though, and after some gentle cajoling I was able to persuade her to accompany me to Laudium.
    A while before this, I had mentioned to Satar Motani that I wanted to buy a car. At the time, I relied on trains and buses to travel to and from work, and the fixed transport schedule made it impossible for me to work overtime.
“Herman, I can get you a special deal. When you’re ready, let me know. I’ll put you in touch with a friend of mine who owns a Toyota dealership,” said Satar Motani.
    “I’m ready right now,” I said.
He wrote out his friend’s dealership details: Kharbai Motors, Laudium.
“Okay, take this and go and look at the showroom. If you find a car you like, my friend will give you a good deal,” he promised.
    That Saturday, Connie and I stood in the forecourt of Kharbai Motors, where sunlight glinted off the windscreens of new cars. Holding hands, we walked up and down the rows of new cars, our eyes scanning the price tickets displayed on the windscreens. We couldn’t resist running our hands along the striped or checked blue, grey or brown car upholstery, with its brand-new smell. Inside the showroom we stopped. In front of us stood a shiny blue Toyota Corolla – priced at a whopping R6 800.
    The salesman was attentive, and when I told him I worked at Motani he disappeared for a while before returning. Then he sat down at a desk and informed me that he had instructed the onsite finance company to work out a payment schedule based on my salary, which he had verified with Motani.
    Connie looked agitated and pulled me aside. “Why did you let him do all that work, Herman? You should tell him we’re only browsing,” she said, clearly embarrassed that the salesman had put in so much effort when we weren’t even there to buy a car.
    ”Look, we can afford it, and with a car there is no limit to what we can achieve,” I said, determined to own that brand-new car.
    Not entirely persuaded, she walked back to the salesman. In less time than it had taken to travel to the dealership, I had signed the purchase documents and the car licence application. The salesman handed me the car keys.
    I had never driven a car in my life, although I had often watched taxi drivers changing gears, while thinking, “That looks easy, I can also do it.”
    Connie’s eyes darted about with anxiety as she softly pleaded, “Herman, please, let’s catch a taxi into Pretoria and pay a taxi driver to take the car back to Hammanskraal for us.”
    Ignoring her, I climbed into the driver’s seat, inhaled the new smell of the car, and switched on the ignition. The car jerked forward, and it took a couple of minutes and a bit of manoeuvring before I managed to engage the clutch and put the car in first gear. The salesman rushed across the floor and said, “Mr Mashaba, are you sure you can drive?”
    “Yes, of course, I’ll be fine,” I smiled.
    The Corolla hiccupped out of the dealership like an old drunk.
    My palms were sweating, my mouth was dry, and Connie yelled and wept alternately; the tension was terrible as I struggled to engage gear. Every time we approached a stop street or a robot, Connie stiffened as I tried desperately to hit first gear, so that we wouldn’t have to judder across another intersection in fourth. My shoulders ached with tension.
    By the time we reached Hammanskraal we were able to converse without clenched jaws. I knew that Connie was proud of our new purchase when she suggested we visit my sister, Conny, who was a nurse at nearby Jubilee Hospital, to show off our new car. My sister was shocked and delighted. “A new car! Hey, Herman, how did you manage this?” She sat in the driver’s seat, held the steering wheel, and adjusted the rear-view mirror – just as I had when I first got into the Corolla. When Conny’s tea break was over, we said goodbye and prepared for our journey home.
    I had never reversed a car. I stared at the gears, located the reverse position, and engaged the clutch. I was over-enthusiastic, though, and applied too much pressure to the accelerator. So we reversed – right into a tree. When we arrived at my mother’s house, she was as pleased with the car as Conny was, though her delight was soon tempered when she saw the ugly dent in the shiny chrome rear bumper.
    Once the afternoon’s tensions had been smoothed over with a cup of tea, Connie turned to me and calmly said, “You need to take driving lessons, Herman – and the best place would be one of the driving schools in Pretoria.”
    “But why should I pay them all that money?” I said. “You know that my cousin is a bus-driver. He can teach me.” And so my unfortunate cousin, who was also conveniently a neighbour, spent the rest of the weekend teaching me to drive.
    When I thought about the traffic on the road to Koedoespoort, I did not feel confident enough to drive to work on the Monday. But by that Tuesday
    I felt I had practised enough to take the car to work. From then on, during the long daily trip to Motani, I spent my time thinking about my next step towards independence.
    Two months after buying the Toyota, I passed my driver’s licence and managed to get insurance, which was just as well, because I was involved in an accident in a few months later, in November 1982. We had to spend Christmas without the Toyota, as the panel beaters were closed over December.

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