Queen of reinvention

Tshepo Maphanyane
DESIGNER: Motshwane

Bursting with fresh inspiration after bouncing back from a major set back, the 42-year- old ignimatic Motswana woman who left the country as a young and inexperienced teenager to explore foreign lands has reinvented herself yet again.

For many children from middle class families in Botswana, carting off teenagers to boarding schools in neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are perceived to offer better education has been a right of passage for years.

At a tender age of 12, Sela Motshwane was sent to boarding school in South Africa.

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After five years at Woodmead School in Johannesburg where she met and interacted with many students from different backgrounds, Motshwane returned home to serve what was then a mandatory National Service before heading to University back in SA.

“I was posted to the department of Parks and Cemeteries in Francistown for one year and then awarded a government sponsorship to study Horticulture at Cape Peninsula University,” Motshwane explains.

Excited but unaware of daunting challenges that lay ahead, Motshwane went back to South Africa where university years would prove more difficult than she had imagined.

“The racism in CapeTown was unbearable and I fared poorly. I had been used to engaging freely with friends from all racial backgrounds and never in a million years did I think I was not deserving of where I was. The treatment was horrible and made one doubt themselves,” Motshwane said.

Pushed by circumstances she waited for the right chance and made a leap to migrate to London.

“We engaged our sponsor, the Ministry of Education to provide us with the necessary support documents enabling us to obtain internship visas on arrival at Heathrow airport,” she explains.

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In London, Motshwane immediately put her creative skills to good use by volunteering at the Chelsea Flower Show for Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.

For five years she worked for the gold star acclaimed national treasure. To supplement her income, she also worked for the Plant Breeders Institute in Cambridge.

After a few years, she met a visiting English Professor who advised her to apply for a course at Cambridge University and she did, choosing Archaeology.

However her excitement at being accepted at the elite institution quickly wore off when she was confronted with the ugly side of the reality within the institution.

“The environment was extremely high pressure. Compound that with icy tensions between learner and supervisor then one was in for a really bad experience. In my case, I felt there were stereo- types that led to me not getting along with my supervisor. People have a vision of what a successful academic should look like, and I did not fit that mould. I was treated like I didn’t belong and I was bullied,” she reveals.

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To escape the toxic learning environment, Motshwane reinvented herself into a businesswoman in the fashion world.

“I had shared an idea with one of my lecturers who suggested I sought advice from the business school. They advised I apply for a short course they funded and subsequently I received £3 000.00 Stirling towards my business idea. I spent all the money in Botswana buying fabric and paying local tailors towards my clothing line, Touch of Africa Fashion. I appreciated the uniqueness of Cambridge University and the pool of resources one can access including willing parties who made my dream come true,” she says

The ambitious young woman however quickly found out that just like academics business was not a walk in the park.

DEDICATED: Motshwane (middle) at fashion show

She recalls a time when she had scheduled a fashion show and then couldn’t find Tswana print material in shops.

“I borrowed Tswana Print clothes from a designer friend, Lesego Malatsi, a friend booked a hall at Jesus College, Cambridge for the fashion event, I asked Virgin Atlantic to fly the clothes consignment for free in the spirit of supporting a start-up and they did. The fashion show went on with the support of all those involved of course and to date I still have the UK based Leteitsi fashion business going,” she says.

Motshwane however lost her UK Residency visa and had to leave the country, which meant adjusting once more to a new set up of setting up base back in Gaborone where she spends most of her time but travelling once a year to the UK to check on her businesses.

Instead of lamenting the set back, she chose to look at the positive side of things and decided this should be an opportunity to explore new business ideas.

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She used her experience in making travel arrangements for her friends and interns who helped with the business at Cambridge to visit Botswana, to set up a new business as an online travel agent.

Talking about her new platform at www.holidayinbotswana.com, Motshwane says, “In every dark cloud look for that silver lining.”

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