Everybody loves a hero – and on South Africa’s roads, the Regent Highway Hero for 2017 is … Phillip Mhlaolo Mtembu.
Mtembu (34), a truck driver for Sasolburg-based Elite Dynamics, beat out 890 other competitors to be named the winner of the third annual Regent Highway Heroes competition. The number of entries was almost five times that of the competition’s first year, in 2015.
The driving performances of the 10 finalists for 2017 (including the very first Regent Highway Hero, Themba Vilakazi), were tracked over several months using an advanced telematics system, which rendered accurate and unbiased data on the proficiencies of each driver.
As the 2017 winner, Mtembu took home cash and other prizes to the value of R75 000. The runner-up, Philani Khwela of BR Khoza Carriers, won cash and prizes worth R40 000 and the second runner-up, Pregasen Govender of Sunshine Bakery, won cash and prizes worth R20 000.
Speaking at the Kyalami Racetrack at a special function during the Kyalami Motorsport Festival to announce him as the 2017 Regent Highway Heroes winner, a delighted Mtembu said that he had faced tough competition.
“It means a lot – I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s not an easy one.”
Equally excited was Mtembu’s employer, Piet Grové, who said: “I’m very glad for Phillip, and I’m very glad for what it’s doing for the morale of my drivers.”
He now plans to run a similar competition within his company – and to use Mtembu to train his other drivers. He said: “Phillip has the personality, and now he has the authority.”
George Lotter, of Pretoria-based Traxcom Insurance Brokers, which is Elite Dynamics’ brokerage, commented: “I just feel thrilled for their sake, and I feel excited about it.”
Regent Commercial Vehicles head Wayne Rautenbach says the Highway Heroes competition had its genesis in efforts to improve risk for Regent’s trucking clients – but it’s had several other important positive outcomes.
“Highway Heroes has inspired significant improvement in drivers’ behaviour and service across the board. Higher motivation levels and improved spirit have in turn led to better business outcomes for employers, who also report substantial fuel, tyre and maintenance costs savings thanks to improved driving.
“But possibly best of all, is the fact that Highway Heroes promotes greater safety on our roads, which impacts every driver and passenger in South Africa. That’s something we’re really proud of,” said Rautenbach.
Regent Commercial Vehicles head of operations, Paul Dangerfield, pointed out that truck drivers keep the wheels of South Africa’s economy turning – yet they are too often treated with impatience by other road users.
“These are people who work long hours, away from their loved ones, in a risky and stressful job. They safely get cargo, often worth millions, across the land. Along the way they must negotiate difficult driving conditions, tight deadlines, criminals – and the rest of us, who are often terribly intolerant of them.
“But to me our country’s truck drivers are all Highway Heroes, who are actually deserving of our respect, and I salute them for the hard work they do. The next time you pass a truck on the highway, give the driver a friendly wave; he’s the guy who makes sure that you have every commodity you need to live a comfortable life,” said Dangerfield.
In a further exciting development, it was announced today that this year will be the last Regent-branded Highway Heroes competition. With the acquisition of the company recently by Hollard Insurance, the competition will from next year be known as Hollard Highway Heroes.
“Hollard is delighted to be taking over the branding of this wonderful initiative,” said Hollard chief marketing officer Heidi Brauer.
“Quite apart from the obvious socio-economic benefits of promoting better truck driving on our roads, the Highway Heroes competition dovetails well with Hollard’s Better Futures marketing campaign, which aims to make a difference in people’s lives.
“Today, Highway Heroes makes a difference in Phillip Mtembu’s life, and those of his loved ones. But it has already made a big impact on all those other Highway Heroes whose driving habits have been so positively influenced through their participation in the competition – and, of course, everyone else on our roads,” said Brauer.