A love for the ages
In the early 70’s, a young Dorcas Onneile Molefhi arrived in the capital city to pursue her O’Levels at Gaborone Senior School.
Located some 140km from her home village of Mookane, in reality it was a world away from the rural life she was used to.
In the same class, a shy Serowe boy, Kgosidialwa Mompati was equally focused on acclimatising to the bright city lights and paid little attention to his tiny classmate.
Never in their wildest dreams could the two teenagers have imagined how their future would be intertwined.
“We were just classmates, not even friends,” admits Dr Mompati, stealing a quizzical look at his wife and business partner, Dr Dorcas Mompati five decades later.
The story of the owners of Riverside Private Hospital in Francistown is one of perseverance, guts and, perhaps above all, a love that has transcended countless boundaries.
Although hesitant to delve into detail about their relationship, the courtship began at the University of Botswana and later blossomed further afield when the two went to study medicine in East Africa.
“I went to study in Uganda and she went to Kenya. We got married in our fourth year of study in 1978,” recalls Dr Mompati, again glancing at his wife as if to make sure he has the dates correct. The slightest of nods confirms he has.
In the following years, the couple’s studies would take them to South Africa and eventually the United Kingdom on government sponsorship.
Mompati studied in Edinburgh and completed the Membership of the Royal College of Physicians.
It was upon their return to Botswana in 1988 that fate would shape their professional futures.
Typical of that time and the bias faced by women in comparison to their male counterparts, a fully qualified female doctor’s attempts to gain government employment hit a brick wall.
For her husband though, it was smooth sailing. He was snapped up as a Consultant Physician immediately.
“When I returned from the UK, I couldn’t get any employment for six months. I was told the public service had reached a ceiling,” recalls Dr D. Mompati, the 33-year-old memory still prompting the slightest of scowls.
Disappointed but not deterred, ‘MmaMompati’ as she was commonly known, decided if she could not get a job she would create her own.
Thus, she took the unprecedented step of starting her own private practice, planting roots in White City with Tati Town Clinic.
The clinic would later relocate to Extension and finally town centre, where it still stands proudly today.
“It was not easy. There were very few private doctors in Francistown at the time, and none of them was a woman. I remember there was Dr Seakgosing (former Minister of Health) and Dr Pridgeon. Before setting up my own clinic I had applied for a job at Dr Seakgosing’s practice but was turned down as there were no vacancies.”
The venture endured a slow start, with the people of Ghetto reluctant to put their health in the hands of a woman.
“Many did not believe I was a qualified doctor!” she adds with a grin.
In contrast to his wife’s struggles, Dr Mompati’s rise up the career ladder was relentless, climaxing in his appointment as President Ketumile Masire’s Personal Physician.
Determined to mark her mark, Dorcas refused to give up.
“It was tough, but eventually my reputation grew. One of the earliest challenges was that I had absolutely no idea in pricing drugs because most of the private doctors at the time gave a global pricing,” she remembers.
To help with this, she engaged a renowned local Economist, Charles van Dyke.
“Soon I charged people P2 for consultation. If someone paid me P10, I used to think it was a lot of money! I had one employee, Grace Makwinja, who’s still with us today,” she reveals with a giggle.
The clinic’s status grew. By 1991, despite his success in the government, Dr Mompati resigned from the civil service to join his wife and incorporated the company to be called Tati River Clinic – him as a Physician and her as a General Practitioner.
In 2005 they were approached by Tati Mine to manage their workforce, an agreement that ended with the mine helping the clinic set up an admission unit.
“We then started developing a small hospital and in 2007 the then Minister of Health, Sheila Tlou officially opened Riverside Hospital,” recall the couple.
The hospital would take a leading role in the fight against AIDS, with Dr Mompati defying all odds to introduce antiretroviral treatment.
Indeed, Riverside introduced many specialised services.
“We were moved by the fact that at the time 255 patients died of kidney disease in Francistown, and I started to build the dialysis unit in 2008, which was ready by 2009,” recalls Mompati, ruefully adding the unit remained inactive for a further two years.
“Due to bureaucracy, it didn’t open until 2011 following the intervention of the Vice President, Mompati Merafhe. Today we’re dialysing 230 patients,” he reveals proudly.
Today the proud parents of four run a fully fledged Private Hospital with a staff compliment of 150, including 15 Specialists and 10 General Practitioners.
“I think for us the biggest blessing was that from the moment we got married we never wanted to be away from each other. We became business partners and pushed each other,” conclude the good doctors, gazing at each other with the same fierce fondness sparked in a classroom all those years ago.
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