Not everybody who runs a nightclub is a nightcrawler, says Dr Max Nhlatho – and the 40-year-old medical doctor should know, he runs Maun’s only nightclub, Base Lounge!
Nhlatho, who is a Chief Executive Director of his other business, Doctor’s Inn call centre, talks to The Voice’s FRANCINAH BAAITSE-MMANA about juggling the entertainment industry with the health profession and how Covid-19 has affected his trade.
Q. Nightclubs have been amongst the hardest hit since the outbreak of Covid-19. How have things been for Base?
There is basically no business right now.
We closed the club in mid-March before the government even announced a movement lockdown.
The reason being on my professional side, I am a medical doctor and being in that business meant there was going to be a conflict, looking at what was coming, the risks involved.
So I asked myself, do I just continue with the club or not?
That was my understanding of Covid-19 at the time so we, myself with other directors, met with our senior management staff and discussed it and we decided to close the club.
Q. And you are yet to reopen?
Ever since there has been no business, the club has been closed and we have lost quite a lot.
Also, it means our workers don’t have any salaries.
In the initial three months, there was support from the government through the wage subsidy for our staff, but after the month of June, it meant there were no more salaries.
Q. How many people are we talking about?
At the club we had 42 (staff members), all of them are unemployed right now!
We are talking about people in the age range of 19 to 40.
It’s a relatively youthful team of workers.
Q. That’s a huge number! Where are they now, how are they surviving?
It is very sad. Most of them are at home, some of them had to look for piece jobs here and there and I am proud of some who decided to cook bread and sell in the streets.
We do have a WhatsApp group where we interact with them and see how they are doing, but it is really sad that they are where they are.
We receive calls from some of them asking for help regarding rentals, some have been evicted.
I remember at the beginning of September when one of them made a desperate call, he was being evicted and I had to call the landlord and committed myself to pay the rent.
Q. Tough times indeed! What about rentals at the nightclub?
The landlord is also demanding rentals.
But he has been kind enough to go for months without receiving payments.
Initially, people thought this thing would go for three to four months so we had to hold on to the rent, but then it went for longer and he started demanding rentals.
The good thing, however, is that we finally came to a gentleman’s agreement and he froze the account.
We are no longer paying rent until the clubs reopen, but every now and then we get pressure from him because he also needs the money.
Q. So what are your immediate plans for the club?
From the club point of view, there were attempts from the Ministry of Trade where nightclubs were allowed to open.
There was a time when they were allowed to open from around 10 am and close around 7 pm.
That was contrary to what a nightclub does and is all about.
We couldn’t open because it wouldn’t have made business sense.
The landlord was given the impression that nightclubs had re-opened and was now demanding rentals.
It took a bit of negotiating for him to understand. But the Minister later withdrew that and nightclubs are still closed.
So to answer your question, our plans are dependent on the laws of the country, what the Task Force and the Minister of Trade agree on, regarding whether they allow us to open or not.
If they don’t open it means the business will stay dead as it is.
Q. Away from running a nightclub, what else do you do?
I run the Doctor’s Inn call centre.
This is where I spend most of my time working and helping people on health matters.
Q. And how has the pandemic affected this line of work?
When the initial lockdown started people actually thought the health industry was going to be making a lot of money because this is an outbreak but it was not the case.
We were forced to downscale our services looking at our customers’ immediate needs.
We had to run with a third of our staff members while others went on paid leave until the lockdown was over and they all returned to work.
Even then it took quite a while for a business to get back to normal.
Q. And have things returned to normal?
I wouldn’t say it is that normal given the restrictions in place.
The expectations are on us, on health service providers having to comply and it is expensive.
These sanitisers come at a massive cost to us.
These are the things that hinder our business.
I was talking to one colleague recently and explained how submission to Medical Aids has dropped to about 15 percent.
We have also seen that drop because when you look at the income generation here, we have realised we are sitting at around 15 percent at Doctor’s Inn.
Q. So how did a medical professional such as yourself end up in the entertainment industry? On the surface, it appears quite an unlikely combination!
Yes, people do tell me that it is unusual, but for me, it is not.
It is usual for me to go out and do things that are exciting.
It all started when I was in medical school in Australia, Melbourne.
I developed an interest in sound engineering and I would buy equipment that I could afford at the time and just started playing in my house.
When I returned to Botswana I started buying equipment gradually.
I read a lot online about sound and will mix and play in my house just for fun.
But the opportunity came when I realised there was no nightclub in Maun.
I actually once threw a party at my house and people really enjoyed it and advised me to consider taking it up to business level.
So I discussed it with my wife and we agreed that we both try it and see how it goes.
That is how it all started in 2018.
Q. Interesting! So if medicine didn’t work out for you, what other careers would you have pursued?
So many. I am one person who likes learning.
I want to learn something new every day!
When I was growing up as a kid, my top five list of things I wanted to be, number one was to be a medical doctor, which I have achieved.
Number two, I wanted to be a lawyer, number three, pilot, four, engineering, although I was not sure which engineering field at the time, number five, Physics.
I love Physics so much and even today I find myself studying it – that is why I love the sound.
I wanted to be a Physicist.
Q. Talking of childhood, how was yours?
I was born in Francistown, Jubilee.
I did my primary school there.
From there my mother took me to Zimbabwe to do my secondary school.
From there I went to do my national service, Tirelo Sechaba in Malwelwe before going to the University of Botswana and finally Australia.
My childhood was not entirely a happy experience.
I had some low moments when I lost my mother at the age of 14 and it was a complete turnaround of things.
Losing my mother was one of the most traumatic moments of my life from there I lost my sister when I was at UB.
Q. So who raised you?
I am a community child – I was raised by my aunts and relatives and grandparents, uncles.
I grew up like an ordinary Motswana child; the rod was not spared!
Q. Fast forward to today, away from the hustle and bustle of work, how do you unwind?
I relax by learning things on Youtube, a bit nerdy I know! Whenever I am tired I stay home, that is what I do a lot.
I am either at work or at home unless I have to travel.
I do spend time with my children and wife, Tebogo Nhlatho whom I co-run Doctor’s Inn with. She is a Physician.
Q. And finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what are you up to this weekend?
I don’t know.
I am such a boring person.
Despite the fact that I own a club, I am not a clubbing person.
You’ll rarely find me at the club.
It is just that sound engineering is a passion of mine but I am not into nightlife.
I do watch football but Barcelona games.