Born at the gold-mining town of Francistown in the north eastern part of Botswana, Leonard Makwinja has spent most of his professional life around mining, precisely diamond mining. In a chit-chat with SUNDAY STANDARD’sVICTOR BAATWENG about his professional timeline, Makwinja also reveals that he was born to an Islamic father but went to a Catholic school.
Although he left his job as deputy managing director of the country’s prime diamond mining company, Debswana Mining Company, more than seven years ago, Leonard Makwinja is still very much active in the business of diamond trading. He owns a mining consulting company, simply known as Six plus One which does some consultancy work both in Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
Although reluctant to say out his exact age, Makwinja is rather proud to mention that he is married with three children ÔÇô a son and two daughters, all living in in the United States of America.
“Our pride of the family is my son, Dodi who plays professional American football,” Makwinja quickly pointed out as I prepared to ask him about his tenure at the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation where he was chairman of the Board until just recently.
Makwinja revealed that leaving the chairmanship of BTC was one of the simplest professional decisions he has ever made. But then again, he is quick to mention that he would have loved to finish off what he had started ÔÇô the sale of BTCL to the public.
With pain, he also admits that although BTCL is ready to float its shares at BSE, he doubts if a sizeable number of Batswana will be able to purchase the shares. “Most of Batswana do not like investing in shares, contrary to previous media reports,”said Makwinja. He also says that he was not forced out of the BTCL board by the Bank of Botswana directive which barred local banks from electing persons who serve in the board of parastatals into their boards. Following the directive, Makwinja quit the BTCL Chairmanship as he is also a board member of BancABC.
“I was not under pressure to leave; I felt it was the right time to go since I had been there for long. On top of that, I had just completed the most important project of privasitising the BTC and only paper work was left”.
Makwinja has been the BTCL Board chairman since April 1, 2006 taking over from Wilfred Mandlebe to lead the strategic direction of BTCL.
At the time, he took over as board chairman when BTC was not performing well financially and faced serious billing challenges. Through his leadership, BTCL strived for cost efficiencies whilst building an advanced converged portfolio of products supported by world class IT and network infrastructure to help boost digital inclusiveness.
In 2008/09, the BTCL turnaround strategy driven by Makwinja paid dividends as the Company recorded a profit. To date, the company’s revenues continue to surge year on year, eventually hitting the billion pula mark for the first time during the 2010/11 financial year.
During his last days at BTC, Makwinja has been credited for driving and delivering the asset separation and privatization process.
Makwinja has extensive career in the management field which spans over fifteen years, including as the General Manager of both Orapa and Letlhakane diamond Mines as well as Jwaneng mine owned by Debswana. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Industrial and Administration Sciences from City University, UK, and a Bachelor of Science in Mineral Exploration (Honours) from the University of Cardiff, UK. He first attained his first Degree in 1976 following a sponsorship by Anglo American.
He recalls that at a time when he was still manager at Orapa mines, diamond production was a great challenge. Makwinja cannot forget the historical 2004 Debswana mining company employees’ strikes which happened a year after he was appointed Blackie Marole’s deputy. Makwinja replaced the then deputy managing director of Debswana Mike Wittetin 2005, becoming the first Motswana to be appointed to that plum post.
In 2007, Makwinja resigned from Debswana and formed his own company Six plus One. He says the boom in the mining sector then made it a necessity to try and help the growth of the sector. Not only has Makwinja’s Six plus one tried its luck in the local shores but it has gone across the borders, Zimbabwe. Political tensions that started there following the 2006 elections however forced Makwinja to retrace their steps back into the country. Amongst companies that have awarded tenders to Six plus One is Botash and Tati Nickel. The company has also carried diamond prospecting in neighboring Lesotho.
“It is unfortunate that a lot of people believe that they have been born to work for someone, to become employees for the rest of their lives”, says Makwinja who says he considers himself an entrepreneur.
He says although he does not regret starting self-employment at a later stage of his life, the BancABC board member says he wished he could have ventured into business at an early age. He is of the view that in as much as some Batswana are not interested in entrepreneurship, those who have business ideas are not getting necessary financial assistance. He also blames lack of interest in self-employment on the country’s basic education which he says does not provide ‘right’ skills.
“Financial institutions need to take risk and invest in budding entrepreneurs. That is why I am with BancABC because I have realised that their risk portfolio is favourable”.
Makwinja encourages budding entrepreneurs to get out of their comfort zones and try something outside the formal employment.