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Mascom’s matriarch

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Mascom's matriarch

“In my view life itself has been disrupted forever – therefore, so has Mascom!”

On 29 November 2019, Dzene Makhwade-Seboni ascended to one of the highest corporate positions in the land, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Mascom Wireless.

In doing so, she became the first woman, and indeed the first Motswana, to take charge of the mobile giant’s since the company set-up shop in Botswana back in 1998.

Having served Mascom with distinction for over 13 years, including as Chief Operations Manager and Chief Marketing Officer, Makhwade-Seboni’s appointment, although historic, hardly came as a surprise.

With a managerial CV that includes stints at Stanbic Bank , Absa Bank Botswana (Formerly Barclays Bank), Coca-Cola and Kgalagadi Breweries, few can match the experience and expertise that Makhwade-Seboni brings to the table.

In this detailed interview with The Voice’s Tshepo Maphanyane, the self-confessed bookworm, a Harvard University Bachelor of Arts (BA Economics) graduate, talks all things Mascom.

Q. Massive congratulations from all at The Voice on your historic appointment. So, what do you attribute your success to?

The opportunity to steer a company of repute and true Botswana pride such as Mascom is one which cannot be taken lightly.

My wealth of experience prior to Mascom, as well as my solid Executive Management experience within Mascom, afforded me the opportunity to develop into a seasoned professional with strong leadership ability, industry-knowledge and competence in managing stakeholder relations.

Q. Any pressure to fill your male predecessor’s boots or are you more comfortable wearing your own more glamorous female boots?

My approach is to be the best version of myself and bring my own uniqueness to any role that I take on.

Q. Can you share your thoughts on what it means to be at the helm of a multimillion Pula corporation during this Covid -19 crisis?

Shuh! It means a lot of things, a lot of pressure and much longer working days!

Most importantly, it requires vigilance because circumstances are fast changing and so are the challenges and opportunities.

It also means living with the knowledge that a pandemic such as this is a situation where a lot is unknown.

Because there are a lot of unknowns and multiple stakeholders whose needs must be met, one has to rely on the input of a team with diverse thoughts.

Q. Covid-19 has certainly changed the order of business and indeed life as we know it. As technology becomes a focal point for everyone, what measures does Mascom have in place for its customers during these difficult times?

The way Business is done and the whole world has changed significantly. Our industry has an integral role, to enable the ‘new way of life’ and support the changes that are happening.

The increase in the use of online channels for commerce, education and entertainment leads to an increasing need for digital access through data offers, services and devices.

These are needs that Mascom has a key role in fulfilling through our wide range of relevant offers.

Additionally, as Mascom customers require the use of remote channels in observance of social distancing, we continue to create awareness and ease for our subscribers to make use of our digital channels.

One of these digital platforms is MascomOnline, which allows subscribers to conduct a wide range of online activities with respect to their Mascom number, from paying their Mascom Bill or recharging their number, to loading their MyZaka Mobile Money account.

Another digital channel is MyZaka Mobile Money through which customers can perform various transactions on their phone, including buying airtime and electricity, paying their DStv subscription and sending money to other people.

Mascom has increased account transaction limits so that MyZaka users can now do more with MyZaka.

In addition, currently it is free for MyZaka customers to send money to anyone via MyZaka for the next three months.

This is a great way to manage your life without using cash or leaving your home.

Q. Interesting, anything else?

As a telco leader and a proud corporate citizen, our commitment to supporting and caring for the community during the Coronavirus pandemic is guided by our Corporate Social Investment Pillars and has three themes: care for yourself, care for your loved ones and care for your community.

In line with this, we support community initiatives in various ways, some of which are: the zero-rating of websites which need to be made available to the public for free, support to the National Emergency Operating Centre (NEOC), support to our Mascom Kitsong Centres, procurement of 3, 000 rapid test-kits as well as contribution of P5.5million to the Covid-19 Relief Fund set-up by the Government of Botswana.

Q. So, will Mascom return to business as it did it before or has the industry been disrupted forever?

In my view life itself has been disrupted forever – therefore, so has Mascom!

However, the core of our aims and how we go about in achieving them will remain ever more relevant.

We will continue to be unwavering in our goal to maintain leadership as a preferred digital services provider and our focus on the customer experience that results in this preference.

This means the company will continue to maintain its focus on bringing innovative and relevant solutions to the market so as to retain its position at the forefront of the industry.

Q. Some have indicated that there are opportunities that can be leveraged in these unprecedented times. What ICT opportunities can a Motswana take advantage of?

In light of the State of Emergency, there have been limitations placed on people in Botswana carrying out their daily tasks in traditional (face-to-face) ways.

Additionally, many companies have stopped operations during this time.

There are opportunities for ICT Entrepreneurs to help companies to digitise their operations so as to be better placed to offer their services online.

The innovative efforts of the ICT sector will enable Batswana to still carry out their personal and business activities online and this will get us as a community more accustomed to using digital channels on a daily basis.

We believe that the Mascom network is robust enough to carry services such as ecommerce, telemedicine, gaming, to name a few.

We are ready to work with entrepreneurs to create ecosystems to allow these to thrive.

Due to social distancing and working-from-home, we all need to be innovative in how we meet, interact and transact.

I am convinced we have a lot of talent in Botswana that can come up with new ideas and useful solutions which will help us all.

You arrive at the top at a time when there is a sharp focus on

Q. Corporate governance in BW following recent lapses in the area. What are your views on corporate governance?

A system of good corporate governance is a key ingredient in the success of any organisation.

It is crucial for our economy and society because the benefits of ethical leadership and well-run organisations make for a better community/society at large.

As Mascom, robust corporate governance is the cornerstone of how we operate and run our business.

To remain a responsible, but also trustworthy, corporate citizen to the public, it is paramount that we stay committed to the highest standards of governance, ethics, professionalism, and not least integrity.

In fact ‘Integrity’ is one of the six Mascom Corporate Values.

Q. Why do you think fewer women than men make it to top positions?

There are numerous reasons, many of which are based on historical biases, such as those held by the appointing authorities that evaluate people to appoint; cultural biases, as well as the undeniable fact that, typically, the bulk of care-giving within a family structure falls on the female which can be a real or perceived hindrance in climbing the corporate ladder.

The important thing is to recognise that women do not want to make it to certain positions simply to fulfill a statistic but because their unique and meaningful contribution is recognised.

I see that the tide is turning, however slowly, and that is a very positive development.

Q. Did you have to make a lot of sacrifices in terms of time spent studying and away from family to reach this level of success?

I have never viewed the commitment I have for my educational achievement as sacrifice because the important thing to me has always been to develop myself.

I am a firm believer in education and academic accomplishments.

One of the values my parents always instilled in their children, and which I hope I do with my kids, is that your education is the greatest inheritance you can get – and it is the one thing no-one can take away from you!

Q. What support systems do you have or are a part of in relation to your role of CEO?

Within Mascom I am fortunate to have the support of a highly knowledgeable and motivated leadership team.

Our shared values and zeal unites us in the common purpose to achieve the best for Mascom.

The support I have enjoyed from the entire Mascom staff, my ‘MascomFamily’, and the Mascom Board, is reflected in the way they have welcomed me into my role with positivity and with commitment, which has been heartwarming to me as CEO.

On the home front, I wear various hats as a corporate woman, wife, mother and sister, and I have received nothing but support, understanding and appreciation from my family.

This ensures that when I am leaning-in on the work-front, things do not fall apart at home.

Q. What advice would you give to women aspiring to be like you?

Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.

Q. They say it’s lonely at the top – agree or disagree?

It certainly can be!

Q. Away from work, what are you most passionate about?

I love music and dancing, whenever I do something and there is music it just seems so much easier!

I enjoy travelling especially to places where there is a large body of water, such as beachfront/island destinations.

I also love reading – I have been known to stay up ‘til the early morning hours because I am hooked on a good book!

Q. And finally, Thank God It’s Friday! How do you spend your weekends under lockdown?

So far lockdown weekends have been mainly working weekends.

However, I have managed to make time for a few hours of ‘Family Game Night’ and also to try my hand at baking banana bread!

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Business

Battling for booze

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Battling for booze

Liquor industry wants alcohol sale ban lifted

Botswana Alcohol Industry Association (BAIA) is lobbying for government to follow the example of neighbouring countries and lift the ban on alcohol sales.

Their main reasoning being that citizens who live close to the border may be tempted to sneak out of the country in their desperation to buy liquor. They note this would be detrimental to the economy as well posing a serious health hazard.

The Association Chairman, Mothusi Molokomme told Voice Money they believe the ban – in place since 27 March – should be lifted to allow the public to purchase alcohol and consume it at home.

As much as the main focus is for bottle stores and wholesalers to open for trade, Molokomme revealed they also want bars to be opened, noting they are the only centres of distribution in some of the country’s remoter areas.

He stressed that bars should be allowed to operate on a ‘takeaway’ basis but only after they satisfy Covid-19 prevention protocols.

“The main worry is that there will be loitering around the bars. But it is our belief that operators will strictly adhere to the regulations and allow for takeaways only,” stated Molokomme.

The Chairman pointed to the recent surge in homebrews as indication that the ban should be lifted.

During the period of lockdown, the police have recorded escalating cases of homebrews, which in some instances have even led to the loss of drinkers’ lives.

“There is also a regional factor because South Africa has announced it will be opening next week. Namibia is opening as well and Zambia has always remained opened and because of our porous borders, we may see the illegal coming in of liquor,” continued Molokomme.

He said areas located along the borders of these countries pose a threat to liquor contraband.

While the association advocates for the ban to be lifted, he says as the industry, they will also intensify their message for safer consumption and promote good behaviour among consumers to exercise precautionary measures.

“We are hoping that we will reach an agreement. It will be difficult to convince government when it comes to opening of bars, but we cannot sideline the bars because, in some areas they are the only available points of sale,” reiterated Molokomme, who doubles as the Managing Director of Distell Botswana.

The association was scheduled to meet with the Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI), Peggy Serame this week to map a way forward regarding the sale of alcohol.

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Business

Crafting a new life

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Crafting a new life

The Enterprising Welder Me and My Business

Absorbed and happy in his work as a car mechanic, an unlikely request from a client three years ago changed the course of 35-year-old Bokamoso Selthabi’s life forever.

The self-taught welder now designs and makes various products from metal, including troughs, trailers, cages, kraal fences and other farm implements.

Having initially set-up shop in the North West of South Africa, his home of three years, the Morwa native retraced his steps back to Botswana to continue Bucha Rest Welding.

Recalling the meeting that altered his existence, Setlhabi told Voice Money he was working as a mechanic when a customer asked him to build a trailer for him.

“I made the product for him. After that he brought two more guys wanting my services. From there it grew into a fully-fledged business,” he explained.

“The business has now been running for two years based in South Africa. It is only at the beginning of this year that we relocated to Botswana,” continued the multi-talented craftsman, adding he briefly explored the Namibian market as well.

While he is still new to the local market, with much of that time blanketed by Covid-19 restrictions, Selthabi admits he is yet to reach a point where he can say business is as good as it was in South Africa.

“So far it has been a bit difficult locally. Some of the products that we do like metal kraals are still not highly rated here but we are working hard to market such products as a good alternative to wooden kraals,” he noted, a steely determination evident in his tone.

Setlhabi explained that one of the perceived disadvantages of products like metal kraals is because the metal conducts heat.

However, he points out that this can be overcome by simply applying paint.

“The good thing about it is that it is durable and lasts longer than other materials used to construct kraals,” he highlighted.

Despite the current low uptake of his products, the enterprising welder is optimistic his fortunes will soon turn around.

“It is promising because, when you work with customers who are not used to what you are doing, you have to carry out extensive marketing of your products. We hope when life goes back to normal after the pandemic there will be some improvement,” he said, adding that items such as feeding containers have proved popular and are in demand.

“We also have customers waiting across the country,” he added.

Other challenges – and the one Setlhabi describes as his biggest – is copycats who attempt to duplicate his work ‘but often fail to match my skills’.

“We have social media pages where we post our products. People would want to do exactly the same but often do not succeed because our designs are unique and the quality is top-notch,” said the National Craft Certificate (NCC) holder proudly.

As the business is still at infancy stage, he has engaged one person to assist but hopes as the enterprise grows he will be able to employ more.

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