Tim Tebeila South African Millionaire Entrepreneur Coal Barron from Rags to Riches.

A man who invests as much energy into his job as he does in inspiring those with very little, to seek out and achieve their best in life. Tim Tebeila is believed to be one of the wealthiest men in Limpopo – he takes us on his journey from a humble village in the Limpopo Province, to the fast-paced pressure-filled life of being Executive Chairman of Sekoko Resources

Led by Tim Tebeila, an astute Limpopo-bred entrepreneur, Sekoko put one foot into the coal mining industry by bagging a number of significant mining prospecting rights in the coal-rich regions of the province. These included exploration rights on 26 farms covering 50 000 ha in the Soutpansberg area. It also has a presence in the Waterberg area.

Sekoko has since broadened its base into other commodities, including iron ore and platinum. The group entered mainstream economic activity when it emerged as a major shareholder in the newly listed coal mining operation Firestone Energy SA, an extension of Australian coal mining giant Firestone Energy.

 Firestone Energy SA listed on the JSE towards the end of last year. "Our partnership with Firestone Energy in developing the Waterberg coal deposits is further testimony to our commitment to supporting provincial growth and development," says Tebeila.

This was a dream come true for Tebeila and a broad range of Sekoko's shareholders. The latter includes national and Limpopo-based community organisations. "Sekoko's empowerment model was developed after noting with concern the extent to which ordinary people, particularly those living in and around the mining areas, were being excluded from mining empowerment transactions," says Tebeila.

Sekoko engaged marginalised local business communities, chiefs and their subjects in and around the areas in which mining activities are undertaken to obtain relevant approvals from the tribal authorities to establish tribal trusts with direct shareholding in Sekoko, he says.

Tim Tebeila's Story

From rural school teacher to coal baron/How a rural school teacher became a coal baron

Timothy Tebeila grew up in a village and started out as a school teacher in Limpopo. His vision for a better life and his drive to help his community saw him grow his business interests slowly but surely as he moved from education to insurance and then into mining, resulting in the launch of Sekoko Resources. Today, his 100% black-owned minerals and exploration company has interests in coal, iron ore, and platinum and has turned the unassuming and open-handed Tebeila into a billionaire and a globally respected mining entrepreneur. He tells Entrepreneur his story.

Early life and early schooling days

I grew up in Sekhukhune in the Limpopo Province, I was third member of the family, in a family of seven children – four boys and three girls. Our mother took care of us and we were supported by our father who was a migrant labourer in Johannesburg. Nevertheless, the family did not escape the hardship experience in a rural setting. Our school was 10 kilometres from where we lived, and every day we had to hike up and down rocky paths and through a river to get there. It was very difficult in winter when we had to wake up in the dark, at 4.00am, to make sure we got to class on time.

I know that my thinking as a child was different. From the age of about eight, back in 1973, I remember being concerned about taking care of the family. I was nine when I started getting temp jobs, either gardening or doing piece work at the local factories. I would earn R20 and take it to my mother. Children usually think of buying things for themselves, but I bought curtains for the house at a jumble sale. I liked shopping at jumble sales because I saw that I could buy so much more there than at a regular shop. I bought clothes for myself and for my brothers and sisters. That was a big thing for us because we would otherwise only get clothes once a year at Christmas, when my father came home with clothing and a school uniform for each of us.

Whilst at high school, I engaged in part time piece work enough to help the family with the basic necessities. This meant requesting favours from the bus driver to buy fruit stock items for local hawking. In a way, the hawking activities in themselves informed my entrepreneurial qualities at an early age.
When I finished high school, my parents chose teaching as a career for me. It was a highly respectable profession at the time, and education was seen as a good field to go into. My parents had saved the money to pay for my tuition, but there was little money for anything else.

We had second-rate schooling, no facilities, and huge discrepancies between rural and urban education. In addition, the high fees made it almost impossible for people from my background to study. I became an activist and a student leader at college and I was committed to fighting the education system that was being imposed on us by the apartheid government. I was fighting for equality and aiming to change the rules so that they could be more favourable to the needy. But I managed to keep focused on my studies too, and graduated with a secondary school teaching qualification.

Early Teaching Career

I got my first teaching job in Tembisa in 1990; and whilst teaching I was also involved with political activities that where prevailing at the time.

I paid dearly for that.

At the beginning of the next academic calendar, I discovered that the Department of Education had decided to fire me as a teacher and employed somebody else at my post without communicating directly with me - I still remember it was post number 14.

I further learnt that I had also been banned to work in Gauteng province, and in my home province of Limpopo.

I remained unemployed for four months and this situation contributed to numerous personal financial difficulties which lead to me being unable to meet the obligations of servicing my creditors. For instance, I had bought a bed from Price and Pride – the furniture shop.  

During this period, I lived on half a loaf of bread and a 5-litre bottle of Oros for weeks on end.

Whilst I was unemployed; I had also applied for a teaching post in the former KwaNdebele (now Mpumalanga province) that I received good news about the teaching post. But the salary was low, and I needed to earn more money just to survive.

Insurance Sales Career

I started selling insurance part-time almost immediately. I was selling to teachers who knew and trusted me and I did very well. I became the top part-time rep and I was earning 12 times my teaching salary every month.

In 1992 I decided that enough was enough and I went into insurance full-time. I worked for Sanlam and soon became one of their top reps in Mpumalanga. A year later I moved back to Polokwane because I wanted to be closer to my family, but I continued to work for Sanlam until 1995. In my time there I learnt that when you sell, you’re selling yourself first, and then the product. People are buying you, which is why it is so important to build good relationships and have strong networks.

Insurance Brokerage

In 1995, I took the leap and decided to open my own insurance brokerage business.

In terms of capital needed to establish the office infrastructure, I was fortunate that I basically needed a desk, a laptop, brick and mortar and a Personal Assistant to provide administration support and customer service.

The business strategy for the brokerage firm was to target pensioners and the uninsured low end of the market.

Brokerage business gave me the opportunity of working independently whereby I could market and sell various insurance products.

The brokerage business presented major challenges of its own, for instance, in terms of cash flow this required that I re-capitalise the business from time to time, which in itself can present both financial and emotional stress.

These business challenges required that I multi-task and work long hours in order to make sure that the business remained sustainable towards self-funding. For instance, in scheduling my business appointments with prospective clients that start and end awkward hours, it required that other than my own breakfast I had to pack extra sandwiches; and, by midday I would be back at my desk in the office. At the end of the day I went straight home and I would go to sleep early because I had to be again before dawn. It is good to mention that this kind of marketing activity was carried out on a realm of geographic and inter-provincial distance constraints, namely, between Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and as far as the hinterlands of KwaZulu Natal.

Challenging as it was, my hard work and commitment paid off and within six months the business was doing well.

At this point, my vision began to unfold and I started believing that something really great was going to happen. I had been learning every step of the way and my hard work was starting to pay off. It was then that I knew I wanted to create a meaningful and sustainable business that would enable me to help lots of people in my community.

The Building Construction Business

The provincial governments throughout South Africa where faced with massive infrastructural backlogs from government buildings to human settlements that needed to be addressed; and, there where various mechanisms put in place to invite the participation of private sector organisation or companies to assist government in rolling out some of these needs.

In 1996, through Tebeila Building Construction and later named Tebcon Developers, I participated in various building and property development projects.

And, by 1997 and 1998, Tebcon had grown to be a significant construction and property development company.

I ran the building construction business alongside the brokerage firm very successfully for a few years, but then I got bored and I started investigating other opportunities outside these two sectors in order to take on new challenges and make real money. That was how I ended up in the mining sector.

I developed an interest in resources and started to read and learn about the industry. I saw that in mining, when you buy into an existing opportunity, the interest is very high. I would have had to finance the cost of the shares through an institution, and I would have had to ensure that I could service that debt. Once again, I decided that there was no way I wanted to owe money to any organisation. 

Interest in Mineral Exploration and Mine Development Business

Acquisition of interest in Anglo Platinum

In December 2002, I lead Sekoko Platinum (Proprietary) Limited), a company that successfully bid for the acquisition 480 000 shares in Anglo American Platinum Corporation Limited through a public tender process.
The primary purpose of the disposal of the government shareholding in Anglo American Platinum was in line with the Government's broad objectives of facilitating participation and empowerment of Historically Disadvantaged Individuals in mining.
Sekoko's empowerment model (broad shareholder base, comprising national and Limpopo based organisations, Tribal Trusts-representing local communities, women and disabled people groups) was developed after noting with concern the extent at which ordinary people, particularly those living in and around the mining areas, were being excluded from mining empowerment transactions. Sekoko engaged marginalised local business communities, chiefs and their subjects in and around the areas in which mining activities are undertaken to obtain relevant approvals from the Tribal Authorities to establish Tribal Trusts with direct shareholding in Sekoko.
Sekoko Resources Early Formations
The inauguration of the new political dispensation in South Africa in 1994 initiated a dynamic shift in the ownership, management and development of the country's mineral heritage. An overall transformation of the national mineral and mining policies resulted in the enactment of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act (28/2002) (MPRDA) in 2002.
It was in 2002 that the foundation for Sekoko Resources was laid.
Sekoko Resources (Pty) Ltd was established in 2004 as a privately held and black-owned South African mineral exploration, mining development company engaged in the exploration for mineral deposits in South Africa.

I decided that the best way forward was to apply for various prospecting rights for minerals that were available in the province. I consulted a geologist who helped me to identify various areas in Limpopo that had prospects to be developed. But the application for prospecting rights also came at cost. I used the profits of the construction business to cross-subsidised my minerals prospecting activities.

Involvement in the minerals exploration space presented its own unique challenges - Not all of the prospecting rights submitted were successful, I had to deal with a fairs of rejections by the Department of Minerals I used this to put forward my application for mineral rights to the government, but it was rejected.

The process of putting the application together had taught me a lot, and I had been doing my own research into the mining and exploration sectors as well. I sat with my PA and we put together another application. This time it was successful, and I secured my first prospecting rights in the Soutpansberg.

Next, I appointed a consulting company to do the exploration. This is where I made the biggest mistake of my life. Money was so limited and as a new business I had no resources with which to do research into the contractors and their business history. Needless to say, there was an internal dispute among the consultants and one of them disappeared overseas with the money I had raised from the community. To this day, he has never been found.

Of course, once you have rights you have to use them or you lose them. But I had no money to develop the land I had acquired the rights to, so I went back to my community and I approached the local chiefs, women’s groups and disabled groups to become shareholders in the business. We went on a two-day bosberaad during which we discussed ways to raise the money to enable exploration of the area I had secured. Within ten months, we managed to raise R1,5 million between us all. It came in dribs and drabs, a few thousand here and a few thousand there. But we got it.

It had been difficult enough for me to deal with losing my own money early on in the game, but now I had to go back to a group of vulnerable people who had invested everything they owned in the business and tell them I had lost their money. There was just no way I was going to admit defeat. I could not let them down.

Today, Sekoko has since broadened its base into other commodities, including iron ore and platinum. The company entered mainstream economic activity when it emerged as a major shareholder in the newly listed coal mining operation Firestone Energy SA, an extension of Australian coal mining giant Firestone Energy.
Firestone Energy SA listed on the JSE towards the end of 2008. Sekoko’s partnership with Firestone Energy in developing the Waterberg coal deposits is further testimony to Sekoko’s commitment to supporting provincial growth and development.
Sekoko is now the majority shareholder of Firestone Energy and I am a director of the company. The Waterberg coal joint venture is playing a major role in helping to alleviate poverty in Limpopo, which has a high unemployment rate.

I never imagined that my life would turn out this way, or that I would be part of such a big mining company, but as the business opportunities unfolded my vision grew and I followed the dream. I am driven both by a spirit of entrepreneurship and by my faith, both of which have enabled me to look beyond what people normally see.

Eight years down the line, Sekoko Resources is still on its feet and it has in the process created worker-friendly environment for all its employees because I like my employees to feel that this is their second home and their fellow employee as part of the family.

As the head of the company I see myself as a father figure, and I want to be respected as such. I think have proved overtime that I am not just a business man who is obsessed by greed and wants to enrich himself alone.

I still had many political connections from my days as a student leader and trade unionist, but I refused to build my business on political connections. I wanted to do it by taking advantage of my own talents, skills and credibility. I am a firm believer in the fact that a business is built on the strengths of its founder.

By this time, I had become very hands-on in the business and I was participating physically in all the site visits and going to the labs. I had collected all the lab test results and kept copies of them in my own files. These pieces of information turned out to be a lifesaver. I started meeting with prospective investors and showing them that although I had no formal reports, I had the test results proving that there were vast coal deposits in the area.

The first company to understand the value of what I was holding in my hands was mining operator Coal of Africa, which invested R55 million in the business there and then.

We are now working on listing Sekoko on the London stock exchange. There is a huge appetite for coal assets in the UK. We have prospecting rights on 27 coal farms measuring nearly 36 000 hectares in the Soutpansberg, and on eight farms measuring about 8 000 hectares in the Waterberg. Considering the future fuel and energy requirements in this country and abroad, this is of great strategic value to the company.


I am a spiritual person and my faith is an important part of my life. Last year The Tim Tebeila Foundation donated R7 million for the building of a church in Sekhukhune, the first of its kind in a rural area. The foundation helps feed the needy, including pensioners, the disabled and children in Limpopo. I also sponsor a number of students at various universities. I am passionate about human development and helping to fight poverty. We regularly hand out clothing and food parcels to people who need them. Whatever we get from life, we must plough back into our communities and it will be multiplied many times. I believe that if Nelson Mandela could give the best of himself to this country, who am I not to do the same?

For more information, please see: http://www.timtebeilafoundation.co.za/

Personal Philosophy

In addition to my teaching diploma, I have participated in many specialised courses in marketing, business management and mining over the past years, but I have learnt my most valuable lessons in the course of doing business. I don’t believe that the spirit of entrepreneurship can be taught, but I do believe you can learn the principles and then apply them in your business. I draw a lot of inspiration from the stories of international entrepreneurs like Donald Trump. But I am also inspired by mining companies around the globe.

I am a disciplined person by nature, which is probably a result of the way I grew up. My wife Pollett and I were married in 1998, and we now have four children. When I was single and focused on making money to survive, I worked solidly from Monday to Friday and kept any socialising strictly to weekends. These days my free time is devoted to my family. I have also found it vital to spend time only with people who are positive. There are many negative detractors out there who do not have your best interests at heart. As a business person, it is advisable to keep away from them as their gossip brings nothing into your life. Surrounding yourself with children is a good way to ensure that you only hear optimistic stories.

Tim Tebeila Rolls Royce

Invest your own sweat

Make sure your principles are clear and established. Then, stick to what you know best to generate income and save money. Do not borrow from others, but learn to create your own wealth. It’s vital to build your income on what you know how to do best. That’s what I did when I was in the insurance business, and it’s a principle I continue to apply even now. It takes time to make money this way – it’s not something that can be achieved overnight or without much hard work and personal sacrifice – but it can be done. You cannot depend on government handouts if you want to create sustainable wealth for yourself and your investors. Being able to earn money is fundamental to operating a successful business. I was prepared to invest my own sweat and my own efforts, and I believe that is what convinced others to come on board. Also, if you are serious about your business, don’t spend money on cars and big houses. Don’t confuse working capital with profit. First you must make the business work, then you can develop expensive tastes.


1990: Tim Tebeila qualifies as a teacher and his first post is at a high school in Tembisa. At the end of that first year he is fired by the Department of Education for being an activist for change.

1991: He finds works as a teacher in Mpumalanga and supplements his meagre income by selling insurance in the evenings and on weekends.

1992: He leaves teaching and joins Sanlam where he becomes a successful broker, later moving back to Limpopo.

1995: He leaves Sanlam and opens his own brokerage, Morethi Insurance Brokers.

1996: Tebeila Building Construction is launched, carrying out building projects in Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West. Between 1997 and 1998 it becomes the biggest black construction company in the country.

2000: He starts to develop an interest in mining and resources and loses R100 000, his life savings, by making an application for prospecting rights that is rejected.

2001: He raises R1,5 million from local community representatives in Limpopo to begin prospecting. The money is lost to an unscrupulous consultant.

2002: Armed with lab test results, he secures R55 million in capital from Coal for Africa. This paves the way for the establishment of Sekoko Resources.

2008: Sekoko enters into a joint venture for two Waterberg coal projects with Firestone Energy, a Perth-based explorations company listed on the Australian and South African stock exchanges. Sekoko becomes the majority shareholder of Firestone Energy.

Tim Tebeila doctorate. An academic procession led by Archbishop Stephen Zondo (left) and Tebeila began the festivities

His various business responsibilities include being a Trustee of the Board of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), which is a voice of organized business in South Africa. Amongst his many notable achievements, Tim was a finalist in the Ernst & Young 2010 World Entrepreneur Awards Programme, he was named Top 20 Forbes Africa Person of the Year (wherein he competed with some of Africa’s Heads of States, and is in the same ranking as Kofi Annan, who is sitting at number 16).
His long term vision to develop and promote economic growth, broad based black economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, in 2011 saw him elected as the President of the National Federated Chamber of Commerce (NAFCOC).
Mr. Tebeila holds specialized qualifications in marketing, business management, mining and minerals from the University of Limpopo. He has been responsible for driving the company’s business strategy, execution and overall performance, which currently boasts a great
number of multinational companies and strategic investors, within the energy and mining the mining sector expressing interest in his project.

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