MASERU – WHEN Dr Mohlalefi Sefika swapped the lecture theatre for business in 2002 he immediately realised that he had been hardly prepared for the challenges of running a successful business venture. Armed with a PhD in Information Technology from the University of Illinois in the United States, Sefika had assumed the switch from the world of academia to business would be seamless.
It soon dawned on him that he was utterly wrong.
University education had not prepared him adequately to deal with the challenges of running a successful enterprise.
The chasm between what he thought he knew and how business operates was huge. He had to learn “on the run” to bridge that gap.
Sefika says immediately after setting up the business in 1998 he was soon to realise that he was “a computer scientist but not a businessman”.
“I was the technical guy with no business sense,” he says. After setting up Computer Business Solutions (CBS) , Sefika and his partner, Lebina Ts’epe, had to learn how to drive the project forward while at the same time learning how business functions.
He says he had to learn how to manage people and at the same complying with Lesotho’s tax and labour laws.
That was no simple task, he says. “I had to read and learn at the speed of light. I read a lot of books on business management,” he says.
Sefika says he will be forever grateful to two business management giants, Jack Welch and Jim Collins, for his “fast-track” education in business management.
Welch is the author of a celebrated book, Straight from the gut, while Collins penned the book, From Good to Great.
“These two business management books really changed my life. I realised there were gaps in my knowledge in the fields of business and managing people.”
Knowledge puffs up, says the Bible.
And it is not too often that you find individuals who have passed through the “cathedrals of knowledge” in universities acknowledging their inadequacies.
Yet, for Sefika, the realisation that he did not know it all, must have been a humbling experience.
Sefika says he realised that while “a PhD will make you a professional in a technical field, business was completely something else”.
The fact that you know how to make a plane doesn’t mean you will succeed in the airline business, he says.
Having realised there were things he did not know, Sefika says they tried to fill-in the gaps by recruiting the best brains available in IT and business, initially recruiting his former students. They also sought to forge alliances with other people in business locally, regionally and internationally.
“We had to consult from the best through and through,” he says.
Even as they were trying to find their feet, Sefika says they had to battle against negative perceptions from the market.
“People did not think that someone with a PhD would go into business. The thinking was that we are not practical and down-to-earth,” he says.
He had to work hard to smash such negativity and win the people’s trust.
Sefika says when they set up the business in 1998, the IT sector in Lesotho was not a very active industry.
To compound the situation, the nascent IT sector was characterized by lack of trust with educated people trying to get into business.
Banks were also not prepared to extend lines of credit to emerging businesses.
Yet, in spite of all these challenges, Sefika says they were determined to “deliver software solutions that were appropriate for the Lesotho market”.
He says while there were some companies that were providing IT services, they realised such companies “were not developing software”.
“There was a market demand for software that was affordable and customised to the needs of customers.”
Having identified that niche market, Sefika and his partner swiftly moved in.
And for the past 18 years, CBS (Pty) Ltd has become a household name in the IT sector providing cutting edge solutions to business needs.
In the next five years, Sefika says they hope to reach new heights in service delivery and market coverage.
“New technologies such as cell phones are opening up unimagined channels for innovation. We want to continue to drive appropriate solutions for the Lesotho market.”
The country’s hostile terrain means there is room to explore new ventures such as tele-medicines and health management through cell phones.
“Too many applications that were considered impossible 10 years ago are now possible. There is a huge niche for Lesotho.”
With 18 years’ experience in business, Sefika tells young Basotho aspiring to get into business to dare to dream and not allow anything to stand in their way.
“It is not easy to succeed in business. There will be moments of self-doubt. But when you want to quit you should just keep punching harder.”
He says youths endevouring to get into business must also be prepared “to work extremely hard”.
“They should not be too afraid to fail. They should not listen to people who say they can’t do it. They should break the rules.”
That may sound maverick but it works, according to Sefika, as long as one’s business idea is really good and one is passionate about it.
“I would advise the youths to pick a really good idea that they are passionate about and go for it. The idea must differentiate you from your competitors. It must be distinct.”
He says even when he left the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to join his business fulltime in 2002, he had to deal with such negative individuals who tried to discourage him.
“They said I would come back and teach but that did not happen.”Computer Business Solutions (Pty) Ltd currently has 48 full-time staff and eight temporary employees.
It is a large company by Lesotho standards. The danger is that such big companies often become slow and unwieldly. Everyone could easily get lost somewhere in the maze of unaccountability.
With such a structure, how does Sefika make decisions?
He says while he believes in the wisdom of consultation, he prefers to take swift decisions to get things done.
“I seek advice from subject specialists, assess the quality of the advice and tests it. I believe in the motto: trust but verify. This means I do research where I am not satisfied.”
Yet even while he is consulting, Sefika says he does not “value decisions that are delayed too much because the value is often lost in the paralysis”.
With many young Basotho entering business, they have often complained they receive very little structural support from the government.
Their small businesses, battling to establish themselves, are often nudged out of the way by larger corporations. This reality has given rise to the call for a deliberate programme to empower locals in business through affirmative action.
But Sefika says he only supports affirmative action for Basotho businesses “only to the extent that it would help build local capacity and create a vibrant economy that would deliver jobs to the people”. “In the IT industry when big projects are awarded to the total exclusion of locals, we would miss an opportunity for job creation and wealth creation for Basotho. They must be allowed to participate in the economy of their country.”
He however adds that any Basotho companies awarded contracts on the basis of affirmative action “must deliver quality and respect project conditions for timely delivery”.
Sefika admits that the crop of graduates from IT schools in Lesotho “are not industry ready” adding there is need to align the curriculum from such institutions to the needs of industry.
“We need closer collaboration between universities and industry to deliver students that are market ready. Universities must change and adapt to close that gap in a win-win situation.”
For Sefika, the IT field was not his first love. Medicine was.
Like every young Mosotho boy growing up in the early 1970’s, Sefika dream was to be a medical doctor.
“My intention was to be a medical practitioner but I realised that Biology was not suited for me because it required too much memorising and reading,” he says.
“I preferred problem-solving and decided to swing completely to Mathematics with a little bit of computer programming.”
Between 1985 and 1989, Sefika studied Mathematics at the NUL. But a year after he graduated from the NUL, he went to the University of Illinois in the United States where he studied Computer Science. He was admitted into the PhD programme at the university based on his strong passes at undergraduate level.
He says he went into IT which he saw “as a good, fashionable field which also had huge commercial prospects”.
He also obtained a Masters degree in Computer Science with the same university in the US.
Sefika completed his PhD in 1996.
MP defies party, backs opposition
MOHLOMINYANE Tota, the only MP for the United for Change (UFC), has defied the party’s order to stop voting with the opposition in parliament.
Tota, the UFC’s deputy leader, told thepost this week that he will vote, guided by his own conscience, and not the party’s instructions.
His defiance comes after the party publicly chastised him for voting with the opposition in parliament.
A fightnight ago, Tota angered his party when he sided with the opposition to vote against the government’s motion to continue discussing the reforms’ Omnibus Bill despite that it was being challenged in the Constitutional Court.
The government however won with 57 votes against the opposition’s 50.
The UFC issued a statement reprimanding Tota for defying its decision to always vote with the government.
But Tota told thepost this week that he was unfazed by the party’s warning.
“I will continue to vote with the opposition where need be, and I will also vote with the government where need be,” Tota said.
He said he respects the party’s position but “I also have a right to follow my conscience”.
This, he added, is because “it is not mandatory for an MP to toe the party line even when his conscience does not allow it”.
He said whether he will vote with the government or the opposition will depend “on the issue on the table”.
He said his conscience would not allow him to vote with the government on the Omnibus Bill motion.
“It was wrong,” Tota said.
“I will do the same again given another chance.”
Tota’s response comes three days after the UFC issued a statement distancing itself from his stance in parliament.
The party said its national executive committee had an urgent meeting over the weekend to discuss Tota’s behaviour.
It said its position is to always support Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s coalition government.
“‘The issue has caused a lot of confusion in the party and among Basotho at large,” the statement reads.
The party also said Tota did not bother to inform the national executive committee about his decision so that he could get a new mandate.
“He did not even inform the committee before voting,” the statement reads.
“The national executive committee held an intensive meeting with Tota about the matter because the purpose of the party is to support the government,” it reads.
The UFC said where the government goes wrong “the party will continue to confront it with peace and not with a fight” (sic).
“We have confidence in the current government because it was voted in by Basotho.”
The UFC’s statement makes it clear that the party “will not support anything against the government”.
Inside plot to oust Matekane
THE plot to topple Prime Minister Sam Matekane thickened this week amid allegations of brazen vote-buying ahead of the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence.
The opposition is said to be ready to push out Matekane when parliament reopens sometime in September. They accuse Matekane’s government of incompetence, nepotism, corruption and using the security forces to harass opposition MPs.
But as the lobbying and touting of MPs reaches fever pitch, there are now allegations of each side using bribes to secure votes crucial in the vote to remove the government.
Democratic Congress leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, this week accused the government of bribing its MPs to defeat the motion against Matekane.
Mokhothu, who made the allegations at the opposition’s press conference yesterdday, did not give further details or names of those bribed and those bribing.
But on Monday, the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MP, Puseletso Lejone, told thepost that Mokhothu offered him a M2.2 million bribe to support the opposition’s motion to upend the government.
Lejone said Mokhothu made the offer at a secret meeting, attended by almost all opposition leaders on August 14, at Monyane Moleleki’s house in Qoatsaneng.
The Thaba Moea MP said the leaders claimed that 60 MPs were supporting the motion against Matekane and wanted his vote to make it 61.
“The money was to come directly from Mokhothu,” Lejone said.
“They asked me to provide them with my bank account so that they could transfer the money.”
Mokhuthu denied the allegations, saying he wondered if Lejone “was smoking socks”.
Lejone repeated the same allegations on the sidelines of yesterday’s press conference where Matekane assured Basotho that his government has enough numbers to fend off the opposition’s attempt to push him out.
He said apart from Moleleki and Mokhothu, other political leaders who attended the meeting were Lekhetho Rakuoane, Machesetsa Mofomobe, Nkaku Kabi, Professor Nqosa Mahao, Teboho Mojapela, Tefo Mapesela and Tšepo Lipholo.
He said the leaders gave him a document showing that six RFP MPs had pledged to support the vote of no confidence. Lejone however refused to name the RFP MPs, saying he still wants them to remain in the ruling party.
He said four MPs from parties in the RFP-led coalition had signed.
They are Mohlominyane Tota (UFC), Reverend Paul Masiu (BAENA), Mokoto Hloaele (AD) and Motlalepula Khahloe (MEC).
The deal, Lejone said, was that Mokhutho would become prime minister and be deputised by Dr Mahali Phamotse.
He said the RFP’s faction was going to be rewarded with 10 ministerial seats for their role in toppling Matekane.
Nearly all the political leaders mentioned by Lejone denied attending the meeting at Moleleki’s house.
“By the living God, I have never been in a meeting with that man (Lejone),” Mokhothu said, adding that Lejone’s allegations are “defamatory”.
Mahao said he last visited Moleleki’s house, which is up the road from his, 22 years ago. Mofomobe said Lejone is lying about the meeting because he wants to curry favour with Matekane, whom he had been criticising for months.
Mofomobe said all his meetings with Lejone were at the BNP Centre and their agenda was toppling Matekane.
“We were discussing his (Matekane) incapability to rule this country,” Mofomobe said.
Rakuoane and Mapesela said they have never been to Moleleki’s house.
So did Kabi who implied that Lejone could have smoked something intoxicating “to talk about a meeting that never happened”.
Lipholo, Rev Masiu, and Tota said they were not at that meeting while Moleleki said he had “no comment”.
Matekane abusing state agencies, says opposition
THE opposition has accused the government of weaponising security agencies to harass and intimidate their MPs.
The accusations come as the opposition plots to push a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Sam Matekane when parliament re-opens in September.
Opposition leaders told a press conference yesterday that the government has resorted to using the army and the police against its MPs because it is afraid of the motion.
Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said the security bosses have been willing tools for the government because their bosses are desperate for Matekane to renew their employment contracts.
He was talking about Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli, army boss Lieutenant General Mojalefa Letsoela and National Security Service (NSS) boss Pheello Ralenkoane.
“Employment contracts for the security agencies’ bosses are the ones causing these problems because the commanders end up working towards pleasing the government for their contract extension,” Mokhothu said.
He said the army has also started setting up roadblocks closer to parliament to search MPs. Mokhothu said the army searched Nkaku Kabi and Advocate Lebohang Maema KC at the parliament premises last week.
“The government is now bringing back the security agencies into party politics,” Mokhothu said.
“This was the first time the army entered the parliament premises to search members and other people there. It is an embarrassment.”
“The responsibility of our soldiers is to guard the borders and ensure security, not to enter politics or set up roadblocks on the parliament roads.”
“They are now running the country like a shop or a company.”
Basotho National Party leader, Machesetsa Mofomobe, alleged that Matekane had a meeting with the security bosses in Teya-teyaneng to discuss how they could use their institutions to clip the opposition’s wings.
“The LDF, LMPS and NSS boss’s contracts have expired, and now they are using the institution to get extensions,” Mofomobe said.
“The LDF and LMPS are doing this deliberately to protect the government.”
thepost could not independently verify this allegation.
Tefo Mapesela, the Basotho Progressive Party leader, said Matekane’s government is taking Lesotho back to 2014 when the army was wooed into politics.
He warned that officers who allow themselves to be used as pawns in political fights might find themselves in jail while their political handlers enjoy freedom.
He referred to Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli who has been in remand prison for seven years as he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and treason.
Mapesela however said the opposition will not be intimidated because it is their democratic right to bring a motion of no confidence against the government.
“When there is time to enter a motion of no confidence it is time, it is written in the law, there is nothing wrong there,” Mapesela said.
“I once launched a motion of no confidence in the previous parliament, but I was never arrested or threatened.”
“We do not owe Matekane anything. When the time has come he has to go. We will lobby others as it is not a crime.”
The Basotho Action Party’s Nqosa Mahao criticised the police for issuing a press statement with political undertones.
In a controversial statement last week, Commissioner Molibeli said the police were aware that some MPs were coercing their colleagues to support their plot to topple the government.
Molibeli also said they were aware that such MPs were surrounding themselves with armed groups.
“Police warn those perpetrating these acts to stop immediately to avoid action that could be taken to protect the country,” Molibeli said.
Matekane made the same allegations at his press conference yesterday.
Professor Mahao said the statement shows that the police have now been entangled in politics.
“Every time parties experience internal problems the leaders conspire with the security agencies,” he said.
“The opposition leaders are now being harassed because the government wants to stop them from exercising their rights.”
The opposition’s charge sheet against Matekane
- Filling of statutory positions despite the reforms aiming to change the system.
- Using security agencies to deter MPs from ousting Matekane.
- Job losses.
- Lack of job creation.
- Failure to fulfil campaign promises.
- Protecting mining companies’ interests at the expense of Basotho.
- Incompetence and lack of communication skills.
- Arrest of MPs by the police.
- Cherry-picking reforms that insulate his government.
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