Heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things – and who inspire others by their example. People such as Stephen Meje.

Meje has been named the overall winner of the 2018 edition of Hollard Highway Heroes, a gruelling competition in which truck drivers have to show that they are South Africa’s best. Luck has nothing to do with it; skill, everything.

In the process, Meje – who drives for Pretoria-based Faith Wheels – takes home the grand prize of R100 000 in cash and prizes, having pipped over 1 600 competitors to the title of Hollard Highway Hero. This is almost twice the 2017 entry pool of 890, and more than seven times the 220 entrants in the first competition, in 2015.

Speaking at the winner function, at the glamorous The Park House of Events on 7 venue in Hyde Park, Johannesburg, a beaming Meje said that his victory would change his family’s life.

“I’m overwhelmed … I’m very happy,” he said. “The prize means a lot to me, to change my life – to change my family’s life. I’ve never had such money.”

Mark Fourie, director of Faith Wheels, was full of praise for Meje, and the way he had approached the Highway Heroes competition.

“This thing motivated him from the very beginning. Every week he’d come and ask what his score was,” said Fourie.

He added that not only had Meje’s participation in Highway Heroes inspired Faith Wheels’ 64 other drivers to drive better, the company itself had been inspired by the experience. It is doubling its annual driver’s prize to R10 000, and is planning to institute a monthly prize for drivers in 2019.

“It’s definitely a win-win,” Fourie said of the value of Hollard Highway Heroes.

While in previous years there has only been one winner, the format of this year’s Hollard Highway Heroes competition changed to allow for a fairer playing field and more winners.

“We wanted to give all types of truck driver the opportunity to win big. And because we believe that all truck drivers – especially those who drive well – are heroes, we also wanted to spread the love,” says Paul Dangerfield, head of operations for Hollard Trucking, who manages Hollard Highway Heroes.

“So we created four categories for the competition, including tippers, tankers, flatbeds and tautliners; each had four sub-categories: long haul, short haul, cross-border and route-specific. Other than the overall winner, the winners of each category have received a very respectable R25 000 in cash and prizes.

“But we haven’t left it at that. The rest of the top 30 have received prizes ranging in value from R2 500 and R1 000, and even the employers of the top four get in on the action – they are awarded R5 000 each towards a celebratory braai for all of their drivers.”

Meje is the winner of the tankers category. The other category winners are as follows:

  • Tautliners: Martin Langeveldt, SSV

  • Flatdecks: Ntsako Mkansi, Digistics

  • Tippers: Lucas Naudé, Grain Carriers

For head of Hollard Trucking, Wayne Rautenbach, Hollard Highway Heroes is the perfect manifestation of Hollard’s Better Futures business purpose.

“Better Futures informs every aspect of how Hollard does business, in that what we do should create and secure a better future for people,” says Rautenbach.

“Highway Heroes does exactly that: it richly rewards our country’s best drivers, benefiting them and their loved ones. It translates to better financial outcomes for their employers, thanks to lower running and maintenance costs, fewer accidents and claims, and better premiums.

“And we all enjoy safer roads because thousands of our country’s truck drivers – those who participated in the competition, as well as the colleagues they inspire – embrace better driving habits,” states Rautenbach.

Dangerfield concludes: “We have recognised only a few among thousands of Highway Heroes today. We would like the public to help us recognise the many –the people who transport virtually every commodity we use to the places where we want them. They are critical to every one of us, and our economy, and they work hard and make personal sacrifices for our sakes.

“So the next time you encounter a truck on the highway and you’re forced to slow down briefly, rather than be impatient, give the driver a smile and a wave. That person is a hero, after all, and it costs nothing to make their day – and yours.”