Interstate Bus Lines was founded on 28th April 1975 by Mr Abel Erasmus and Mr Fred Kinnear. As employees of the Bantu Investment Corporation (BIC), it was the duty of these two gentlemen to investigate the feasibility of bus services in the mid-seventies. Economic conditions were bad and the project was officially shelved. But not for Erasmus and Kinnear, they decided to carry on under their own steam. For two years it was tough going because the permit system was rigorously applied. Each time they made their application for a Thaba ‘Nchu/Bloemfontein permit, the railways and even the BIC opposed them. But with the late Dr James Moroka, a leader in the ANC, as partner, they managed to get a foot in the door in 1975 when the three took over the small bus company of the late Jacob Mokgethi, who operated four buses in the hinterland of Thaba ‘Nchu on routes allocated to him.
The company was first known as Thaba ‘Nchu Transport, but was later renamed Jakaranda after the Pretoria based printers of the bus tickets whose name appeared on the back of the tickets. Interstate was later chosen because the services expanded and began to operate between states. In 1976, the two entrepreneurs finally managed, through a private enterprise initiative, to obtain permission to operate the route they wanted. Bus services offering more comfort than trains were needed everywhere and as a result the company grew rapidly. In fact, from its inception in 1975, Interstate has grown into a transport giant with as many as 600 buses countrywide at one stage in order to provide people with an alternative to rigidly-scheduled rail transport.
It was towards the end of the eighties, when the taxi revolution gained momentum, that the two entrepreneurs decided to split their operations. Kinnear took on a new challenge by teaming up with the late Joseph Matsebula in Nelspruit to lay the foundations for the Buscor group to serve the Mpumalanga province. In other words, what was started with four buses is Interstate and Buscor today. By this time, Peter de Meyer and Tienie Kriel had joined Erasmus and together the three built up a team that helped Interstate grow into one of the biggest business undertaking in the Free State.
Driven by Interstate’s motto “Together We Progress” soon it became clear that bigger and more modern premises were required. This prompted a decision to move the head office from Thaba ‘Nchu to the East End industrial area of Bloemfontein where new headquarters and workshops were built that over even more than 15 years later are modern and prestigious. Today, Interstate’s operational area covers vast stretches of the Mangaung local municipal areas. This includes daily services between Thaba ‘Nchu, Botshabelo and Bloemfontein, Brandfort, as well as Phuthaditjhaba. A regular weekend service operates from Bloemfontein to Welkom.
Interstate also caters for organized special hire groups. About 80% of Interstate’s services run between Thaba ‘Nchu and nearby Botshabelo in the northeast Free State and Bloemfontein. Apart from competing with long distance taxis, it must also compete with smaller operators for subsidized routes in terms of the new tender-for contract system, which requires buses to be not older than 15 years. Interstate Bus Lines has to date undergone several transformation processes. In 2004 through the Black Economic Empowerment process, 40% shareholding of the company was held by blacks who also yielded power in terms of management control and board.
In 2006 the company further underwent a Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment process that yielded 63% ownership of the company by broad based groupings like the Taxi’s, Small Bus Operators and Employees through registered Trusts. The trustees have nominated and appointed representatives from each trust to be in the Board of Directors. The new broad based company is registered as Itumele Bus Lines (Pty) Ltd and trades as Interstate Bus Lines because it was bought as a going concern. The new Directors have attended a high level intensive Directors training program through the University of Free State over a period of eight months to ensure that they are able to execute control through the Board as well as to ensure good corporate governance in the company as per King II report on Corporate Governance.