As a business owner who thrived in a traditionally male-dominated sector, Khosi Sibisi didn’t get to where she is today by luck. Something of a “Jill of all trades” in a variety of sectors and professions, she credits her success in the mining industry to ambition, drive, and a lot of hard work.
“When they say something is just for men or people of a certain calibre, that’s where I want to go. The opportunities in the mining value chain are huge. When I entered in 2003, it was the domain of white males. Whether you were black or white, you were just a woman. But we have taken our space as women, starting mines and creating jobs. People will say the sector is capital-intensive with big barriers to entry, but if you are creative, you can find ways in. And once you arrive, you’ll quickly see how you can enrich and empower not only yourself but also communities, especially those around the mining operations. Mining is one of the sectors that, when done according to the Social and Labour Plans (know as a license to operate), can vastly contribute to the improvement of communities socially and economically.”
Born in Sophiatown and raised in Diepkloof, Khosi spent her youth pouring over glossy magazines glamourising life in the United States. Moving there became something of an obsession that was finally fulfilled when she got a scholarship to St. Francis in Brooklyn, New York.
She later transferred to the slightly more liberal City College of NY, raised a family and stayed in the US for over ten years before returning home following the referendum to lift apartheid. It was an exciting time, to say the least. Khosi became the National Coordinating officer for the Peace Secretariat, an initiative established to bring together all South Africans for a peaceful transition to democracy and was appointed to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) overseeing the nation’s first free and fair election. She then took that experience to launch Simeka, a PR firm that worked with the public and private sectors to bring historically disadvantaged South Africans (HDSA) into the mainstreams of the economy.
Following stints at Young & Rubicam and Telkom SA, Khosi cut her mining teeth at Harmony Gold where she came on board as Group Executive of Corporate Affairs.
“Up to then, the mining industry was very white, largely Afrikaans, and male-dominated. Meetings would start in English and when heated topics were discussed the language would switch to Afrikaans. My new colleagues and I would leave the room or disengage. One debate was particularly volatile, everyone was speaking in circles until someone broke ranks and spoke directly, liberating everyone else to air their views. It worked because thereafter an inclusion initiative was implemented and things really started to change,” Khosi recalls.
During her time at Harmony Gold, Khosi saw how the gold industry transformed the South African economy but enriched a privileged few. She had a great CEO who listened to her ideas and gave her the freedom to run with projects. His entrepreneurial spirit shaped Khosi greatly and inspired her to launch a new venture that would empower more HDSA in the sector.
Having negotiated a consulting agreement with Harmony Gold for an upfront payout of all their company benefits, Khosi launched Khusela Women Investments with fellow former Harmony executives, Amanda Matthee, Khetiwe McClain, and Fleur Honeywill.
“That consulting agreement was key for us as we were able to establish the required infrastructure and resources we needed to start,”
Khosi and her co-founders became one of the first few South African women-business owners of a coal mining company. They formed a joint venture company with Hoskens Consolidated Investment (HCI) and established HCI Khusela Coal. Khusela later exited the JV but Khosi remains a non-Executive Director on HCI Coal’s board.
Using personal funds from Khusela gains, Khosi single-handedly established a new business Streams Holdings to diversify the portfolio to include healthcare and hospitality, but the global economic downturn negatively impacted the business. “I continued to self-fund but eventually depleted my resources and access to funding became a challenge. That was a hard lesson: never use your entire savings to funding your entrepreneurship journey. Commit a certain percentage and devise a plan to seek external funders. I’d recommend having an 80/20 income generating strategy (20% long-term projects and 80% short-term),” she says in retrospect.
Recently, Khosi brought new partners into Stream Holdings and, focusing solely on minerals and energy sector, renamed the business WaterBearer Resources Investments.
“We’re a small team that achieves big things through strategic partnerships, enabling us to reach a broader network than we could manage alone. You don’t need a large number of employees and fancy offices to run a business, only a strong and dedicated core team, good IT support, and tight financial controls.”
At 57 years, Khosi’s been around the block and clearly has a lot of experience to share, which she does at every opportunity. She mentors those coming up behind her, especially young women in mining who she feels have a very important role to play in economic and
“Many parts of Africa, including South Africa, have a lot of minerals that have not been explored. We need more women in the industry not only because there is a tremendous opportunity, but also because women have a different perspective. We can enrich ourselves but more importantly, women tend to bring others along as we succeed. In this country, people remain impoverished where a minority thrive. This is not sustainable. With women at the helm, I think the situation would be different. So I’m glad to pave the way for more socially conscious management in the mining sector and hope to see more women taking a leading role in the industry.”
We’re with you on that, Khosi!
Identify all avenues such as crowdfunding, friends & family, and high net-worth individuals seeking investment opportunities. Leave the financial institutions as the last resort – their money is more expensive than
Identify business partners that complement you and share your vision. Know your partners well: their strengths, backgrounds, aspirations, failures, values, etc and spend time with them before “tying the knot”.
Do not invest all your life savings in starting
a business. Cap
to a percentage or amount and don’t
Hire help to cover legal and accounting requirements of running a business. It costs money but goes a long way. And manage your finances prudently: be the one who signs every cheque. Never live beyond your means!
When you start, it seems odd but it’s good to have an exit strategy as this will contribute to your short, medium, and long-term goals. Determine a period to exit when objectives are not being met but resources are clearly being drained.
Khosi’s story first appeared in Women Creating Wealth, A Collection of Stories of Women Entrepreneurs from across Africa. You order or download a copy here.