Interview With Tau Matla CEO, Prince Mashabela

By Koketso Mamabolo

Prince Mashabela, the CEO of Tau Matla, doesn’t think small. When you work in mining, you can’t afford to think small, and you can’t afford to think short-term. Mining also has a direct impact on the communities where the minerals are mined, and it’s no wonder that Prince is able to keep his eye on the bigger picture, while ensuring that the fruits of mining exploration are also used to develop communities.

From strength to strength 

Prince has a good story to tell, a story that shows that one can come into the industry and turn a vision into reality. Making it a reality doesn’t come easy but the result is worth the hard work: In December last year, Tau Matla recorded a turnover of R127-million, despite the challenges the mining industry has faced.

“We’re coming to disrupt,” says Prince. “As an entrepreneur, once you know what it’s like to not have any money, to be poor, to not have money in your business, to not have anything to take care of yourself. There’s nothing that can really hurt you. What’s the worst that could ever happen to you? That’s a mindset you need to have.”

This year Tau Matla is working on a contract for 10 base vessels with a value of over R1-billion. Moving from a small business to one that works across the world is possible, and Prince is proof of this. 

“This is working with communities, working with poor people, creating employment. We’re hiring so many people at the moment. You know, it feels great to employ people. We employ people globally at the moment. We’re employing people in South Africa. We employ people in Dubai, and people in Hong Kong, China. That’s extremely great for us, and we’re supplying some of the largest plants in the Middle East, which is quite incredible.”

Going beyond our borders 

Prince has spotted a gap in the market: exports. This is why they have trade desks in Hong Kong and Dubai. “We’re investing in our global markets and our global mindset, and that’s what we’re addressing.”

“Sustainability goes in the form of owning assets that can be mineable for the next 30 to 40 to 50 years,” says Prince. He explains that mining is a generational business, one that can be passed on because mining takes place over a long period of time.

“You want to be sustainable by getting export contracts. That’s what makes you sustainable.”

“You’ve got to reach more clients internationally,” he says, highlighting that the focus on the local market can limit growth for smaller players. 

“If you had an export contract, the amount of money you were losing in loadshedding on the rand, you would make up in foreign currency.”

 

Taking others with

“Business is about fighting, about being a lion.”

Tau means ‘lion’ in the Sepedi. Matla means ‘strength’. His two sons are named Tau and Matla, and the name exemplifies his business philosophy. Breaking down barriers and being a disruptor can also mean you’re using that strength and power to empower others.

“We’re working with these communities to uplift them,” explains Prince. “For us, it’s how can we take as many people as we can with us? That’s my focus as CEO.”

Prince wants to ensure that the communities they’re going into get something out of the assets which they live on. Educating them about the value of minerals, how they can be leveraged and used to develop communities, is key to making operations sustainable.

“Our mindset is to educate people on the importance of finding partnerships and working with people that are like-minded, people that want to invest back in communities.”

It’s not enough to make a promise to people that mining will bring development and then not deliver.

“We want our kids growing and understanding what they own,” he says. “Our parents made that mistake because our parents wanted us to survive.” 

“We’re not coming into the mining sector just to live and be luxurious.” “What drives us? We’re a group of guys who have grown – yes, with privilege, you could say. But we didn’t let that deter us. We’re not going to get caught up in the same system. We want to get out of that system.”

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