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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Mineral Exploration and Mine Development Business
interest in Anglo Platinum
InDecember 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
Resources Early Formations
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
2002: Armed with lab test results, he secures R55 million in
capital from Coal for Africa. This paves the way for the establishment of
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
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
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
number of multinational
companies and strategic investors, within the energy and mining the mining
sector expressing interest in his project.