‘Start where you with what you have’



Maseru- Growing up as a chubby and bubbly little girl who respects people and barely ever had episodes of dramatic mischief in her home village in Semphetenyane Maseru, Bokang Joyce Mareka had a very close relationship with her father who was a carpenter. Growing up, Bokang was an introvert who spent most of her time with her late father at his workshop, so much that she is remembered as her father’s daughter. The first of four children, three girls and a boy, Bokang was born a Roman Catholic but is now a born again Christian.

Bokang’s family would never miss church on a Sunday and everyday was a prayer day at any time of the day. She and all her siblings, except the last born, attended preparatory school at St Bernadette Nursery School, a Roman Catholic school managed by the sisters of Charity of Ottawa. She ruminates about her old good days when she was in pre-school. “Unlike other babies, I never cried when going to school. We had a beautiful song we used to sing with our Sister in Charge, ‘Re lumelisa ‘M’e Stannie, O palame koloi” she sings with a silvery voice. “I still have my photo with Sister Stanislaus (Stannie) and my younger brother,” she adds.

She attended primary schooling at the nearby St James Anglican Primary School and then proceeded to ’Mabathoana High School – a Roman Catholic school. While in primary school, she said she liked athletics but always came last in all activities. Then in high school she played netball which she was very good at. “I was a lovely, chubby child, so I realised that athletics was not my thing and since I started playing netball I excelled,” she recalls. “If netball was lucrative at the time in our country, I would have definitely made it to the national team, that’s how good I was,” Bokang declares.

The struggle of not passing mathematics well at matric level is real and seems to have always forced students to change their favourite career paths to something else because they do not qualify for their desired field of study. This fate hit Bokang as well, and she had to change her career choice. However, because of her tenacity she found other alternatives to pursue her dream career. Despite her dream to pursue a Bachelor of Accounting course at the National University of Lesotho, Bokang said, “I didn’t want mathematics to define my future so I went to a private college (Damelin) in South Africa to further my studies.”

After college, Bokang said she enrolled in a programme called Wits Plus with the University of Witwatersrand and completed her accounting degree. Despite that victory, she did not stop there. Her thirst for education drove her to the edge and she discovered that she could also study towards a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing with Oxford University through Damelin College. Unfortunately, the deal between the two institution ended when she was only left with one module to complete the qualification.

“My heart was bleeding but I carried on because my ultimate goal was to become a Chartered Accountant. So while studying, I looked for opportunities to work in South Africa and I got a job,” she says with a smile. Asked if it was easy for her to get a job in South Africa as a non-citizen in those years, Bokang says, “It wasn’t at all but because I was one of the high performers, I believe it worked for me because many would recommend me.”

The pressure of studying and working at the same time was not easy for her and she admitted she hardly had time for herself as she had to double efforts both in her studies to keep her job and at the workplace to keep good relations with her superiors. However, the workplace changed her personality from an introvert to an extrovert. Though she says the transition wasn’t easy, it was worth it because currently she’s a career and business coach.

“When I started working I was a Cashbook Clerk; I was only taking chances when applying because I wasn’t a South African, little did I know that God would secure the offer,” Bokang says. She adds that she learned through that interview that one has to be honest during job interviews. This, she states, is because she missed a lifetime opportunity while answering one of the questions for she was not honest with the interview panel.

“While I was asked a question relating to getting a study allowance from the company, I gave the panel an impression that I didn’t need it because my parents could afford to pay my tuition fees,” she recalls. “In actual fact that was not the case, I needed a study allowance but I thought if I would be honest and tell them that I needed it, they would not give me the job. In the end I lost that opportunity,” she adds with a sad looking face.

Her journey in the workplace was strengthened, she says, by an incident she had with an Afrikaner senior colleague with whom they had an altercation due to cultural differences. Bokang would not talk back or keep eye contact when talking to her older colleagues because in her culture that is a sign of disrespect. While for her colleague that was a sign of dishonesty and lack of confidence. As a result, she had to learn to be bold and loathe her own culture to survive in the workplace.

“Remember we are talking about someone who is almost or exactly your father’s age and they expect you to talk back and look them in the eye; that was very hard for me,” she recalls. During this time, Bokang says she had to stand her ground so she would not be defined by who she wasn’t. “Workplace will humble you because you have to be very conscious of how you engage with other colleagues, especially your superiors because when there are some open opportunities within the company and they have to nominate you, they’ll remember your character – how you engage with them and others. That could be a deal breaker or deal maker for your breakthrough,” she advises.

Why and how she became interested in business and accounting, Bokang says is because she would do some accounting books for her father’s business and she was with him at the business place most of the time while she was not at school. Before she learned accounting, she used to assist her father with carpentry. “During school holidays we’d all join my dad at the workshop and it was a norm in the family. My parents didn’t like to see us roaming around the village, if not at workplace, we had to be at church no matter what day it was,” she recalls.

How she became a business coach, she says it was not a decision that she planned for but rather one that was influenced by her experience. Having grown up in a family that was business oriented, Bokang started learning the ropes of business from a young age. As she grew up and studied, she saw the gaps that hindered her father’s business from growing, she then came through for her father and assisted him with the proper operation of business. She says she has also helped her sister to grow her own family business which has since blossomed. She then saw an opportunity to open her own consultancy as a business coach to be able to assist more people.

Her advice to the younger generation is, “While studying, engage in voluntary work of any kind and excel at it for it might open an employment opportunity. That is the work experience that’s needed when applying for jobs.” Her word to everyone is: “Discover the purpose of your life and make sure that you relate well with God and be keen to find your purpose. Hard work pays, it may take long but it will surely come, it’s the consistency that will bring perfection. Start where you are with what you have.”


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