Long walk to the top

Leungo Mokgwathi

A master of many trades

Perhaps the best word to describe Mompoloki Lerumo Mogobe is multifaceted.

When he’s not in court fighting for justice, he is a serial entrepreneur and property investor whose name you have probably seen plastered over Mogobe Plaza in Gaborone’s CBD.

Despite being born in a generation where modern technology was still very much in its infancy, Mogobe has adapted with the times, as evidenced by his popular podcast, ‘Mogobe Nuggets of Wisdom’ – a platform that seeks to inspire and empower entrepreneurs of all stripes in Botswana and beyond.

The Voice’s Leungo Mokgwathi met up with Mogobe at his impressive offices in the heart of the capital city to find out how this man of humble beginnings became the success he is today.

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  • For our readers who have not heard of you, please introduce yourself.

Mompoloki Lerumo Mogobe is a serial entrepreneur who practices as a lawyer, property investor and recently a Youtuber with a podcast called ‘Nuggets of Wisdom’. I was born in Kanye village.

  • What type of law do you practice?

I like Commercial Law, but because of the nature of our market, I could not specialise. My Masters Degree was on The Law of International Trade and Banking.

I thought I would specialise in Banking Law but when I came home from my studies, it wasn’t easy to get work so I realised that I could not specialise.

My law firm [Lerumo Mogobe Legal Practitioners] specialises in debt collection, litigation, matrimonial work and occasionally we have a system of pro bono cases.

By the way, when it comes to Criminal Law, everyone I have represented on the criminal side has walked. My principle is that I am here to win!

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  • Guess I know who to call if I’m ever in trouble! Let’s travel back in time to where it all began – take us through your childhood.

During my formative years, from one to 10 years, my parents were apart and I lived with my mother. At one point my mother sent me to Kanye to stay with my grandparents.

That experience was very crucial in my life because it taught me certain things, mainly to get used to hard conditions. In those days, standpipes were not available in every ward so my grandmother would make me travel really long distances to get water.

In addition, every Friday my cousins and I would go on some form of pilgrimage to Mmakatanyane, a cattlepost that belonged to my late grandfather. It was about 30km away from Matsaakgang Primary School where I went. You can imagine what it was like, travelling 30km on foot, especially in winter.

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I still have images in my head from when my feet bled from the calluses. After my parents reconciled at age 10, I was then introduced to a new cattlepost, Mmahumalebe, which was 80km beyond Jwaneng where I was introduced to other challenges.

As difficult as it was, those experiences toughened me up and I actually really enjoyed my childhood.

  • Which schools did you go to?

I went to Lesedi Primary School; we were staying at Kasi, which was in Bontleng in a two-room setup. There was no indoor plumbing and the toilet was outside. I can still show you the house where we lived. It was also a toughening experience because we used to walk from Bontleng to Lesedi Primary.

We then moved to Extension 4 next to Pop In, to another small house, two houses away from Spiritual Healing Church. I used to walk from Extension 4 to Gaborone Senior Secondary School where I went for High School.

  • Sounds like your childhood involved a lot of walking! What were some of your favourite places when growing up?

One of them was definitely the National Library because I developed a relationship with the Library setup where my best friend, Letlhogonolo Leteane, and I enjoyed reading. It was in the late 70s and already we were reading about the likes of Howard Hughes [American business magnate].

Every day after Prep, we would visit the library. After that, we would walk across to Botswana Book Centre in Main Mall where we would peek at books on display because we were not allowed to read them from the shelves. The guard used to chase us around for that.

The American embassy was also a place we loved to frequent because they had books and weekly updates on international news. I can even tell you, I remember when Ronald Regan beat Jimmy Carter because we watched it live [4 November 1980].

  • So have you always wanted to be a lawyer?

One of my favourite subjects was technical drawing. Mr Johnson was my teacher and I really loved the notion of becoming an architect. I had made up my mind that I would become an architect. Architecture was thought of as a Science-based course and so to pursue it you had to be really good at the Sciences.

However, I couldn’t stand Chemistry and all those equations. I still threw myself into it though. I went ahead and did a pre-entry Science Course and I could have gone further, until I learnt that there were openings for LLB so I applied and nailed it. I immediately lost interest in the Sciences.

Ironically, I am now all grown up and although I am a lawyer, I have diverted into the building environment and developing buildings, including the one we are in right now.

  • Yours is a career steeped in success – but what’s the biggest blunder you’ve ever made on the job?

There was a time in 2000 when I was facing the possibility of being struck off as a lawyer. The case involved Lancashire Steel in Zimbabwe, who were my clients suing Barnes Fencing. After recovering the money, I claimed an amount of P45, 000 as collection commission.

Barnes Fencing, through their lawyers, took up the case and it ended up being found that I should not have taken the P45, 000. I took it on appeal to clear my name and that was when the judge delivered a scathing judgment that said the Legal Society should take stern measures against me in that case.

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It was a great disaster where I was scared about what I would feed my children.

  • Wow, so how did it end?

The Law Society applied to the High Court that I be suspended from practice for three years for professional misconduct. However, I won the case as the Judge gave an order for a suspended sentence.

  • Mention a high profile case you will never forget.

There are so many! We used to do cases against the government and against huge companies like Debswana and we used to take on big law firms like Armstrongs, Collins Newman & Co and we would win against them. At one point we were the largest indigenous law firm in Botswana.

I can recall a case where we represented the Botswana Mine Workers Union against Debswana; it was a big case in the sense that 34 members of the Union were facing incarceration for alleged contempt of court. The stakes were very high because my clients were about to lose their liberty if they were found in contempt.

I started arguing at the court from around 9am and finished at 4pm, ultimately winning the case. I remember the other side gave me a hand at the end because they were so impressed.

  • Let’s talk about Mr Mogobe the entrepreneur and Property Investor. Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?

I was exposed to entrepreneurship quite early on by my mom who had her own tuckshop in Old Naledi and a tailoring business in Bontleng. We always visited these two establishments to learn more about the art of business which is where the culture of entrepreneurship in me comes from.

  • How did you get into real estate?

Around 2013, the Real Estate Arm in Botswana was growing, in fact it was exploding and I applied what is called the 80/20 rule, deciding to focus more entirely on the built environment, property investment and real estate.

I didn’t close the law firm completely though, it is still operating, however I am not fully involved. I am more of an adviser now.

Our first major project was the mall in Gabane, then the filling station. The mother of all projects was the one in the CBD.

We have had so many other properties we acquired in different places; right now we have about 350 tenants across the country and the objective is to get to a thousand!

  • You are also a podcaster, how did that come about and how is it going?

Mogobe Nuggets of Wisdom is a labour of love in the sense that I love communicating and sharing. I was actually instrumental in helping Yarona FM and Duma FM to get licensing and partnerships to get going and during the time, one of my clients urged me to have my own program.

I then came up with Meet the Overcomers which aired on Duma FM. It was taken over by Ragton Mazhani until it was abruptly stopped a year ago.

Technology became what it is and I already had a routine of watching podcasts, one in particular was named Bigger Pockets. It was my younger son who actually pushed me to acquire a camera and we started.

I loved entrepreneurship and wanted to establish a platform to bring in the best and brightest to enthuse them, energise them, inspire them and empower them.

  • How marketable is law today?

It really depends on your mindset. It also depends on your approach to life. My thinking is that if you engage in personal development, and you read and absorb large amounts of information in any field, you can become the top of your field.

  • Any rituals that help you manage stress?

One thing about me, I choose not to attach myself to such labels like stress. However, my rituals are exercising, reading a lot and trying to avoid arguments at all costs.

  • Not so easy for a lawyer I’d imagine! Anyway, Thank God It’s Friday, what do you have planned for this weekend?

I will be at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Sabbath. I will also take the time to read, chill and maybe dash to Kanye to check on my elders.

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