A pharmacist par excellence
Known across the world as druggists or chemists, pharmacists have become some of the most important healthcare providers in society today.
For 35-year-old Pharmacist, Kaone Topoyame Bula, just like we do with our doctors and lawyers, we should also have our pharmacists on speed dial.
After 10 years of dispensing drugs to the sick as an employee, the Kgagodi native made the decision to open his own pharmacy in 2019 in Francistown.
Four years later, the Chidzanani empire boasts of three stores: two in Ghetto and another recently opened in Nata.
In its efforts to stand out from the rest, Chidzanani Pharmacy is also the first in the second city to offer a home delivery service to its customers.
Born to a mother from Motokwe in Kweneng, and a father from Kgagodi in the Bobirwa District, Bula spent his childhood travelling between these two rural areas, an upbringing that shaped the man he is today.
From trekking and watering goats at the cattlepost in his youth, Bula now understands the biochemical mechanisms and actions of drugs, and provides counselling and guidance to patients and healthcare providers.
In this interview with The Voice’s KABELO DIPHOLO, he opens up ON his rural upbringing and sheds some light on his life as a father, husband and business owner.
Tell us, where did it all start?
Well, after graduating from Institute of Health Sciences (IHS) where I was studying Pharmacy, I enrolled for a Degree in Public Health at Institute of Development Management (IDM) and I graduated in May 2009. Luckily for me I was employed the next month on 25th June 2009 at Riverside Clinic, popularly known as Dr Mompati.
I remember this date because it was the same day that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson died!
It was indeed – slightly ironic that MJ could have done with a decent pharmacist himself! So, how long were you under Dr Mompati’s employ?
I worked there for two years, then I joined the Pharma Group, later Gaborone Private Hospital, Living Waters and MRI Botswana.
Yes I’ve been everywhere!
After 10 years as a pharmacist, I just believed I had garnered enough experience to open and run my own successful business.
So in 2019, together with a partner, we started Chidzanani Pharmacy.
Unfortunately my partner felt the business was taking too long to take off and he left, but I soldiered on.
Was this your first venture into starting a business or had you tried before?
Yes. I’ve tried so many things before and failed.
I’ve opened tuck-shops in Tonota which didn’t work out.
I tried supplies, or tenderpreneurship as they call it, but it really never worked. So yes, I tried entrepreneurship for many years before opening Chidzanani.
Take us back to your days as a young boy growing up in the village.
I had a typical village upbringing.
In fact I don’t remember spending more than two days in Gaborone as a young boy.
Most of my childhood was spent with my grandmother in Motokwe.
Like any boy in the village, I tended to the goats and went to the cattlepost on weekends.
I also spent some time in Kgagodi where my father comes from.
I did both my primary in Motokwe and Kgagodi, and my senior school at Lotsane in Palapye.
This has helped me a lot because today I can speak Sekgalagadi, Kalanga and Sebirwa.
Fascinating. You recently opened a third pharmacy in Nata. When you started did you ever envision this kind of growth?
I’ve always known that we’d have more than one pharmacy.
We had done our research and identified some spots we felt we could operate from.
However, due to financial challenges, we lost out on Selebi Phikwe, Tonota, Mmadinare and Tutume.
In fact, we believe there are still spaces we can occupy, and we’ve to do it sooner before the market is saturated.
So should we expect more Chidzanani outlets soon?
Retail is too hectic – my dream is to go into wholesale and manufacturing.
With retail you spend too many hours at work with very little returns.
There’s very little family time as you’re always at work.
With wholesale I can work three days a week and give my family time.
What challenges did you face when you opened your first store?
At the beginning, people don’t really have faith in you.
It takes time for people to absorb a new brand, and us being local compounded the problem.
Remember we’re in an industry that has for many years been dominated by expatriates, and citizens who come in are looked at with a bit of skepticism.
One of the challenges is also finding the right employees.
Getting experienced employees comes at a cost, and that is one of the biggest challenges for a new business.
Another challenge for most businesses here is the red tape.
Say if today I find an investor who wants us to manufacture paracetamol, it is going to take ages to get licensing.
Regulations are just too rigid for business.
What is your take on the current standoff between government and nurses on the discontinuation of dispensary duties?
For pharmacies it’s good because we’ve been experiencing a lot of movement; it is, however, bad for the client.
Professionally it’s the right thing to do.
Things should be done in the right way, and this in the long run will benefit government.
Pharmacists are trained professionals and specialize in preparation, dispensing and management of medications.
This situation has also created opportunities for young unemployed graduates as government has just advertised 450 post for Pharmacy Technicians.
Let’s get a bit more personal. What’s your relationship status?
I’m married and have two kids.
My wife is my business partner, we work together to run the three stores.
You’re also known as one of the biggest donors at Tafic Football Club. What is your relationship with the club?
It’s part of our programmes to give back to the communities we operate in.
We donate to teams like Tafic, schools and recently we promised to donate a first aid kit to Eleven Angels.
I’m not linked to Tafic in anyway, but, whenever we can, we assist because they’re one of the biggest teams in Botswana and Francistown.
Away from the drug world, how do you relax?
I’m a small time farmer.
I’m still learning the ropes with smallstock.
I also like travelling.
When we’re free, my wife and I enjoying travelling and seeing the world
Thank God It’s Friday. What do you have planned for this weekend?
I don’t anything special planned for this weekend.
This means I’ll be spending time with my family at home.