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Tshidi and the seed of sustainability

FROM her school days in Katlehong, young Tshidi had her heart set on social work. ‘I always wanted to save the world, care for children and the elderly,’ she remembers.

Miss South Africa-worthy credentials indeed, but ‘God was not gentle’, she laughs, giving her short shrift in the height department.

When she wasn’t accepted for social services at the University of Cape Town, she made dad proud and enrolled for a law degree. ‘I absolutely hated it and lasted barely a year,’ she shares.

A move to humanities did the trick, and Tshidi found joy studying public admin, industrial psychology and sociology. Still, not one sustainability seed sprouted in her brain. 

It was only at South African Breweries that she gave the notion the time of day. Previously, she had been involved in human resources and later transformation at Samancor, but her dislike of mine culture prompted her to move on. From SAB, she joined ABI in corporate affairs, with a hefty side order of environmental responsibility.  

In keeping with the portfolio, she became a member of the PET Recycling Company (PETCO) board in 2008. 

By the time the Waste Management Act moved from discussion to declaration in 2009, SAB and ABI had already resolved to self-regulate rather than be forced into the naughty corner by big brother. In her previous role as Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa’s public affairs, communication and sustainability director,  this was Tshidi’s passion, as was supporting PETCO to integrate the informal sector into the sustainability value chain and driving transformation.

These issues continue to occupy her hours, although she now has 13 countries under her wing as public affairs director at Coca-Cola Beverages Africa. Her many achievements have stood her in good stead, among them best internal stakeholder engagement programme, PETCO community developer of the year for the school recycling programme, transformation trailblazer and 2018 businesswoman of  the year finalist. 

With her team of 60 across 13 countries envisaging a ‘world without waste’, she strikes a fine balance between market need for pleasing aesthetics and fighting for the environment. ‘We have moved from “this pack is sexy, consumers will love it” to “consumers love this pack and it is good for the environment”. Environmental sustainability underpins our manufacturing, distributing and selling. 

Leadership comes easily, she adds. ‘Before I’m a leader, I’m a human being who must treat others as human beings. I spot potential, often potential that people themselves don’t see. There’s nothing better than switching others on to their own reality.’ 

Disappointment seeps in occasionally. ‘I expect a lot and sometimes feel let down. As with everyone else, I also encounter the odd psycho who lurks among us, but I try not to let that tarnish my world view. My husband constantly reminds me that people are not against me, but for themselves, and that helps me to bounce back.’

Husband is high-school sweetheart and Liberty executive Thabang. They recently raised a non-CCBA fizzy beverage in celebration of their 20th anniversary.

Completing the family is Tokelo (17), whose social conscience and sense of justice are sources of great pride for his mother, who believes he’d make a good pastor.

Tshidi herself could easily be a professional traveller; an inspiring Instagrammer, she says. Serial globetrotters whose lives consist of posting drool-inducing photos of exotic destinations turn her green in a very non-environmental way. 

But for now, life is a fulfilling career, wonderful family, sometimes a little reading – previously strictly non-fiction, but now, thanks to a friend who introduced her to African authors four years ago, currently ‘The thing around your neck’ by Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Regular boxing sessions keep burnout at bay. ‘Exercise keeps me sane and certain other people alive,’ she chuckles.

For a girl who once didn’t give the environment a thought, Tshidi, now chairperson of PETCO, is like a child in a sweet shop as she describes her first bucket of home-grown compost. 

She has much still to contribute at CCBA, but that doesn’t stop her flirting with the idea of one day joining the United Nations or Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. 

‘I may yet become a social worker after all,’ she muses.