Dictating her destiny

PROMOTING LOCAL: Medupe in her shop

Women sets up curio shop in Maun ME & MY BUSINESS

With close to 200, 000 unemployed citizens searching for work in a country with a population slightly over two million, competition in Botswana’s job market is getting tougher by the day.

According to the latest report from Statistics Botswana, of the 194, 990 seeking jobs, 100, 000 are women.

It is against this backdrop that Keatametse Medupe, a hard-working Motswana woman, decided to set up a small curio business in Maun to relieve the stress of looking for employment where 68, 000 people have given up the search.

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“I came to Maun in 2017 to join my husband who was already working here. As you know, jobs are hard to get. I had to look around and decide on the kind of business that would help me to meaningfully contribute to the family income. I settled for a curio shop,” explains the 44-year-old mother-of-two, who started her enterprise in May 2017.

Medupe had enough capital to rent and stock up a small stall besides Tshilli café (opposite Nhabe Musuem) a favourite chilling-spot with tourists.

“I started small because I was still learning the market and kept expanding as the business improved.”

The bulk of her products include hand-made crafts, traditional baskets and handbags, branded t-shirts, caps and hats.

Originally from Letlhakeng village in the Kweneng District, Medupe arrived in Maun armed with a basic background in selling merchandise. She sold clothes from her car boot and did some part time business consultancy.

“I come from a family of people who hate idleness. We always have to find something to do. Those who are unemployed, they either go into Agriculture or open some form of business to self-employ,” stressed the well-dressed businesswoman, her large purple earrings and stylish straw hat indicative of her colourful character.

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However, starting a curio shop proved trickier than Medupe envisioned.

“I thought setting up a curio shop would be the easiest option since I had been selling clothes for some time. But I learnt that it was not a bed of roses.”

She quickly realised tourists were not like her previous clientele, which was almost entirely made up of locals.

“They have certain tastes and preferences. You have to be hands on even when you have employees because tourists ask questions. They do not just buy without knowing the history of the products. They want to know what materials were used and where they were manufactured. That requires a lot of patience, attention and love,” notes Medupe, adding tourists often pay with foreign currency so she has to be up-to-date with exchange rates.

“Sometimes they are not sure of the kind of gifts they want to buy for friends and family back home, so I have to help them find that perfect gift from my shop. The secret is to never lose a customer to a competitor!”

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Medupe’s products are mostly made in Botswana, with a few items sourced from neighbouring countries.

“I do get a few items from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, but most of my stuff is made locally. My priority is to sell Botswana tourism through crafts.”

Medupe is making the most of SADC’s Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063, which promotes free intra trade among its member states.

The initiative is designed to encourage SADC members to reduce tariffs at its borders in a bid to boost trade within the region, which is currently reported to stand at 15-17 percent.

The ultimate goal is to reduce unemployment and poverty in these countries.

“Currently I have one employee, but I will be expanding very soon and hope to employ two more. My aim is to grow so that within the next five years I will be supplying other shops and selling internationally,” reveals Medupe, beaing at the prospect.

Although still relatively small, the business has helped her put food on the table as well as paying for her four-year-old daughter’s school fees.

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“As a woman it is important that you contribute to the income at home. I do not have to completely depend on my husband for financial support.”

2019 proved a difficult year for both Medupe and Maun, the devastating drought that parched the land causing a drop in the number of tourists who visited the area.

“The drought coupled with an election year was a very bad combination in the tourism industry. Our sales drastically went down. Fortunately, from the savings we made in 2018, which was a relatively good year, we managed to keep our heads afloat.”

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Last year, Maun and the North West District endured terrible famine. Large parts of the Okavango Delta and the usually mighty Thamalakane River, which twists its way through the tourist area, went dry. This led to a massive reduction in the water-based activities on offer, resulting in many tourists cancelling their bookings. The drying up of the Delta was due to drought in Angola, which feeds the Okavango.

Experts are hopeful the water will return this year, with the floods in Angola already flowing into the Delta and water levels confirmed to be going up in the Mohembo and Shakawe area.

Medupe is confident the good times will return in 2020.

“Our businesses will hopefully go up again this year. We have been informed that the water may reach Thamalakane River early, maybe around March.”

Although her business has little to do with water, the precious liquid could prove the difference between another year of struggle or a period of success.

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