In South Africa, getting products safely and efficiently transported across the country can often be a challenge. But for entrepreneur Thandi Hillie and her company Sbhekuza Rail (a division of Sbhekuza Women Investments (Pty) Ltd), she is focused on solutions and providing a world-class service to her customers.
LoA chatted to co-founder and ceo, Thandi Hillie, this month to learn more about this growing, specialist business.
What does your company do?
Sbhekuza Rail offers inter-modal logistics and transport services, primarily focusing on rail operation services. We combine the most efficient transport modes based on each client's logistics needs. Our freight haulage services operate on routes between industrial centres, port terminals and railway terminals. Trained personnel and advanced technology systems are used to operate our terminals, and safe and purpose-built materials handling equipment is deployed. We also provide fit-for-purpose and client specific warehouse storage solutions.
“We would like to see revitalized rural economies within the communities where the branch line traverses, with the biggest aspiration being to reduce the scourge of poverty and unemployment in these rural communities.”
What inspired you to start your company?
As women who were born and bred in the rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa, we were touched by the growing unemployment and poverty rates in the once vibrant small towns of the former Transkei region due to lack of economic activity. This prompted us to think of innovative ways of bringing back economic activity to areas that needed it the most, and what better way than to revitalize a railway branch line that traverses along five (5) municipal jurisdictions which are some of the most impoverished in the province.
The revitalization of the Mthatha-Amabele branch line is driven by the need to fully optimize the utilization and efficiency of rail transport infrastructure through achieving an appropriate balance between freight transported by rail and road whilst unlocking social and economic potential in the areas along the branch line.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
The revitalization of the branch line is in full support of and enhances the government's "Road to Rail" migration strategy; which is aimed at improving business efficiencies, reducing the cost of doing business in the region, as well as reducing carbon emissions.
This initiative will also help fast track the re-integration of isolated marginalized economies to mainstream economies. By unlocking socio-economic potential in communities surrounding the branch line, this will boost employment creation opportunities, thus ultimately minimizing the rate of urbanization.
“By unlocking socio-economic potential in communities surrounding the branch line, this will boost employment creation opportunities, thus ultimately minimizing the rate of urbanization.”
Tell us a little about your team
The Sbhekuza Rail team is made up of six (6) highly driven women who were born and bred in the mostly rural Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Five sisters and their mother, their experience spans across various fields including specialized technical knowledge of rail operations, finance, risk management and treasury, business process management, human resources management and organizational development.
Our qualifications are the following:
Chairperson - Unathi Conjwa - BCom Social Science, Diploma HR
CEO - Thandi Hillie - Honours Applied Mathematics
CFO - Asanda Tshishonga - Honours Economics
Corporate Services Director - Anele Khunou - BCom Information Systems
Service Co-Ordinator - Zikhona Conjwa - Diploma Logistics
Non-Executive Director - Fungelwa Conjwa - Teaching qualification
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
As sisters we grew up in an entrepreneurial home, where our parents ran a number of businesses including sawmill, carpentry, brick-making, as well as grocery retail shops. This is where the entrepreneurial bug stung us as siblings, and before Sbhekuza Rail we have individually run various businesses in financial risk consulting, business process management, organizational development and recruitment.
“Our immediate plan is to reintroduce a seamless, efficient and cost-effective origin-to-destination freight rail service to customers who utilised the service while it was still operational more than 20 years ago, and source new clients with rail-friendly cargo.”
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Our immediate plan is to reintroduce a seamless, efficient and cost-effective origin-to-destination freight rail service to customers who utilized the service while it was still operational more than 20 years ago, and source new clients with rail-friendly cargo. In addition, we would like to see revitalized rural economies within the communities where the branch line traverses, with the biggest aspiration being to reduce the scourge of poverty and unemployment in these rural communities.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Knowing that your small contribution and effort makes a huge difference to the lives of ordinary people in society.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
It is not an easy journey but one must always remember why one started and always keep one's eye on the ball. Perseverance, perseverance, perseverance!!!!
Contact or follow Sbhekuza Rail
Why LoA loves it….
If South Africa’s economy is to thrive and fulfill its future potential, the ability to move goods successfully around the country and connect economic opportunities to communities outside of the major urban areas is key. That’s why companies such as Sbhekuza Rail and the vision of Thandi Hillie and her co-founders are key. This is a great story of what can be achieved when entrepreneurs look to bring their business acumen and experience to the table in order to find sustainable and efficient solutions to the table. This is a high impact logistics and transport business to watch over the coming years. — Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa