Childhood friends Durand Naidoo and Thuso Mhlambi have realized a lifelong ambition by becoming the first 100% black owned ship-owners in South Africa.
The 33-year-old owners of Linsen Nambi, the company they started in 2012, made maritime history as youth owners when they bought Grindrod’s Unicorn Bunker Services.
With their female empowerment partners, Women in Oil and Energy, they became the role model for the Government’s initiative to unlock transformation in the maritime – and liquid fuels – industries.
Said founding member of Linsen Nambi, Durand Naidoo: “Linsen Nambi is a 100% black youth owned shipping company with highly skilled maritime professionals, strong customer relationships and owns its own ships.
“Therefore we are well placed for strategic acquisitions and organic growth to develop our infrastructure further.”
He says the deal took a “concerted effort” from the private sector (Grindrod), government (IDC) & oil majors (BP, Engen and Chevron).
“It is unbelievable that it took this long, but is a first win for the recently legislated Combined Maritime Transport Policy, which calls for black ownership in shipping.”
Linsen Nambi’s other founding member, Thuso Mhlambi said there was a great need for the private sector and the funding institutions to “better align themselves to Governments Development Plans to unlock more deals like ours”.
He added: “I would like to see the private sector opening up this space to new entrants, something that will facilitate the creation of employment.”
Naidoo and Mhlambi have set a goal: to become the leading African shipping company with a global presence.
They already employ 110 people, a number they hope to increase significantly as they grow the business.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, Durand Naidoo and Thuso Mhlamb
Since the inception of Linsen Nambi six years ago, the company has bought three bunker vessels in the ports of Durban and Cape Town.
These bunkers supply fuel to vessels; as Naidoo describes it: “In layman terms we are the petrol attendants of the sea.”
Mhlambi says they are proud of their transformation successes: Seven out of twelve masters are black, all twelve chief officers and all twelve chief engineers in the company are black.
The story of the inception of their company is one of a friendship that goes back to 1996, when they were both 10 and in grade 4 at Montclair Senior Primary School in Durban.
Says Naidoo: “We became instant friends; Thuso was, and still is, the funniest person I’ve ever met.”
The men say that they stuck together when they progressed to the New Forest High School in Yellow Wood Park, Durban.
Said Mhlambi: “It was a racially divided, model C school with kids bussed in from so called poor areas. Because we had a group of multi-racial friends, we were labeled sell-outs – but we survived.”
They say they were “swept up” in the new South Africa and that while they weren’t “born free” they were old enough to understand there was a change in the country, “one that we could capitalize on”.
“We walked home from school every day fantasizing about how rich we would be, the cars we would drive, the many businesses we would own and, of course, helping other poor kids.
“Today our heads are less in the clouds, we know how difficult it is to run a start-up owe all of our success to God and His blessing and favour as an entrepreneur and we our lives.
We are aware that our success is for a higher purpose and thus have a strong focus on the development of communities where we operate.”
Naidoo added: “Our friendship is based on 23 years of loyalty and growing up together from children to men. We are as close as brothers.”
They took different forks in the road at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Naidoo got his Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting degree but says becoming an Auditor didn’t interest him.
“I decided to study further and, by chance, chose Maritime Economics as an elective. I was bitten by the maritime bug from the first lecture.”