Sehlabo embodies strange combination of passions

Trailblazing entrepreneur with uncanny patriotism

’MAPALO NKHELOANE

QUTHING -At the age of 43, Mothibeli Sehlabo is a successful entrepreneur who toiled incessantly for everything that he owns as nothing was ever handed to him on a silver platter. Sehlabo of Ha Koali, Mount Moorosi, owns a chain of money spinning businesses both in Lesotho and South Africa, which comprise a big shopping complex, farms and filling stations.

The Quthing-born businessman has not only made it in the commercial front but also swings a lot of political clout in the country as the steadfast member of the Basotho National Party (BNP) and is the District Administrator of the Quthing, a position he assumed after the current coalition government led by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane took office in June 2017.

The secret of this successful gentleman who never inherited anything from his parents - the late Colonel Sehlabo and ’Mamothibeli Sehlabo - is to embrace and exploit every opportunity that comes one’s way. His father, who was a senior officer in the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) relocated his family to Qwaqwa, in the Free State Province in South Africa after the BNP-led government was toppled by the then army commander Major General Metsing Lekhanya in 1986.

Sehlabo did both his primary and high school education in Qwaqwa before he moved to Bloemfontein in 1996 where he studied cost accounting at the Central University of Technology (CUT). After he graduated from CUT, he entered formal employment in 1999 and worked for the First National Bank (FNB) in Bloemfontein. Hard work saw him quickly climb the corporate ladder until he became one of the bank’s executive managers.

In 2006, he entered into partnership with another South African citizen Marius Odendaal and opened his first filling station through a loan from FNB. Five years later, he took over a failing filling station in Masianokeng and started running it. “After I took over the business from the Mapetla family, I renovated the establishment and ensured that everything was in perfect running order. The business is now doing quite well.

“Later on I was approached by owners of another filling station in Roma who also had problems running their business. I have since partnered with them too and business is booming there as well,” he notes. He adds: “I also partnered with the owner of a filling station called Mejametalana, which is located in Khubetsoana and business is running smoothly. I am passionate about filling station businesses because I have both the skills and experience to run such enterprises. I am able to spot their weaknesses and potential from a distance.”

All his filling stations employ a total of over 70 workers in the country. “The whole idea is to help reduce the high unemployment rate in Lesotho, starting with my own home district. I normally appoint young managers who are fresh from school. I groom them until I am content that they can manage the business on their own.

“The problem is I have had a lot of challenges with experienced managers because most of the time, they think they know better and make a lot of unnecessary mistakes. It is therefore not easy to shape them the way one wants because of the experience they already have,” he says. The shopping complex he owns in Qwaqwa also houses a filling station, surgeries and several retail stores, including supermarkets.

“My dream is to someday hand over the fuel selling businesses to other people and move a notch up to became a supplier of fuel. That can happen if our government can come to the rescue and meet filling station owners half-way by providing the necessary facilities like construction of the facilities.”

But he shows that some of the challenges encountered in the business include personnel management. “Sometimes you make harsh decisions as a businessman. Management of people has always been a major challenge in every business enterprise,” he says. He says for a filling station to succeed, attendants should be especially friendly to attract more customers.

Sehlabo was appointed head of retail of FNB Lesotho in 2012. “The whole idea was to help the FNB branch in Lesotho to open other branches and recruit the right personnel for the various new positions that had opened up. But seven months down the line, I left the bank because of some challenges I met,” he recalls.

Besides being the DA of Quthing, Sehlabo owns prosperous farms in Thupa-Kubu, Ha ’Matoloana and another farm in Bloemfontein where he rears livestock. “Although I am an avid farmer, my heart however remains in selling fuel. But Lesotho could be a better place for fuel suppliers and sellers if the government could build its own fuel reserves and implement a clear policy in terms of wholesale and retail of fuel energy.

“The problem is that our country does not have a policy that protects the interests of Basotho entrepreneurs who trade in energy, for example, a foreigner can open a similar business next to the one owned by a Mosotho simply because the law permits it. Foreigners migrate to Lesotho and exploit opportunities reserved for locals,” he shows.

Another challenge he cites is that all their suppliers who are South African companies are governed by the country’s strict laws, hence border control issues have a tendency of affecting the supply in local filling stations. “These are problems beyond our control and they affect our businesses adversely as they hinder services, compromise our customers and cut our profits.

For a personality who is a part and parcel of politics, Sehlabo comes across as a down-to-earth person who is ready to give the next person an audience at all times. He says he joined politics not necessarily for the love of political power but to ensure that his dream of developing Quthing and the lives of Liphakoe, as the people from Quthing are affectionately called, come true. “I would love to see Liphakoe prosper and get the essential services that would improve their lives,” he notes.

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