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Man of many hats

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Respected businessman – Shah

He is one of the most successful businessmen in Botswana. In 1992, armed with only a degree in commerce, Jagdish Shah left India for a job in a country he knew very little about.

Twenty-three years later, Shah is not only among the respected business people of this country, but the man is also a Motswana with interest that span across business, sports and politics. In this candid interview with MMIKA SOLOMON Shah talks about his journey from his humble beginnings as an employee of a distribution company to owning a distribution company himself, to being the Chairman of one of the biggest football teams in the country and to adding another feather to his fedora by becoming the Deputy treasurer of the Botswana Democratic Party

It is a great pleasure to meet you; you are indeed a busy man. I had to wait for 45 minutes for our appointment.

I am so sorry man. Such is my life I am always busy meeting different kinds of people for different purposes. My schedule is always busy. I don’t even have time for myself. But I am glad you were patient to wait for me.

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am Jagdish Shah. I can’t tell you my age, I was born in India, and I came to Botswana about 23 years ago. Now Botswana is my home.

How so?

I came to Botswana as an employee in a distribution company many years ago. After a while I decided to start my own company, which was also a distribution company. From there I decided to stay in Botswana. The reception I got from Batswana was awesome and it made sense for me to invest in the country that I call home. After a while I bought a house in Phakalane and I have never looked back.

Have there been any changes worth noting from the time you arrived in this country up to now?

There has been a lot of improvement in terms of infrastructural development. People here are more literate than some of the countries I won’t mention. An average Motswana speaks English now, unlike back then. Batswana are free to associate with foreigners and they are free spirited. The country has attracted more Foreign Direct Investment. To me it says the country accommodates foreigners especially for investment purposes. Look at the road network the country has, look at the peace that reigns in this country!

But I am surprised that after 23 years you still can’t speak Setswana. Why?

The problem is that I have been associating myself with the middle class too much. The people I mostly have a conversation with speak to me in English. The need to speak the language really hit me when I took the Chairmanship of Township Rollers. And now that I have joined mainstream politics I have challenged myself to learn to speak Setswana as soon as possible. But then again everyone in Botswana seems to be able to speak English, even the old people.

So there is no language barrier between you and the people of this country?

I haven’t experienced it. I have travelled to all parts of this country doing business, especially in big villages and towns. People speak English and there’s no language barrier whatsoever.

You are now the Deputy Treasurer of the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). When did you get involved in partisan politics?

I have always helped finance the BDP. I was recruited into the party four years ago. As a member of the party I was recently asked to contest for the position of deputy treasurer and I won. And now I am ready to serve the party in that capacity.

What change are you hoping to bring to the BDP?

I am not allowed to speak on behalf of the party. We have relevant authorities that speak on behalf of the party. What I can tell you is that we are working as a team to make BDP look better.

Surely, you have your own ideas.

True I do. But you are pushing me, because I am only a deputy assisting the treasurer, Mr. Satar Dada. My philosophy is to make the party wealthy. I want the party to invest in business and become self-sustaining. I believe we need to empower our members to become wealthy too.

Why did you join BDP?

I am convinced the party has managed the country well. It accommodates everyone, irrespective of his or her religion. Whatever I have is courtesy of the BDP government because they gave me the opportunity to invest in their country. I have my own house and I do not fear that one day I would be deported.

Are you involved in Charity work?

I have been associated with the SOS Children’s Village in Tlokweng for the last 20 years. I do help them. I also sit in the Board of BONEPWA as we try to help fight HIV/AIDS. I am the first person to commit 72 houses to the presidential housing appeal. I was one of the people who invited eye specialists from India to help at least 3 000 Batswana to fight eye diseases.

What kind of businesses are you involved in?

I sold my distribution company recently. I am now running Jack’s Gym for the fun of it because that type of business doesn’t make much money. I am just glad people have a place to go to get fit. I have a marketing company and other small businesses. I have some property that I let out. I also have Rollers as some of my projects.

Talking about football, would you care to tell us why footballers in this country earn so little?

There is no money in Football in Botswana. But it is getting better and better every year. The mistake that Batswana make is to compare our football with that of South Africa. My friend we are still far. In South Africa a team gets R1.5 million per game. I am sure you don’t want to know how much local teams get per game or do you? Football is a sport that is loved by many. I have never played but I watch all the international soccer tournaments. So I understand the game very well.

Would you agree that politics is a dirty game, which needs loads of money?

It is unfortunate that our politicians do not have enough money to sustain themselves, let alone to campaign. Many of our politicians struggle financially but believe me; guys with money can perform better even after they are voted into power because they would have resources and the independence to push the agenda of the youth and whomever they want to help.

Let’s get a little personal. Are you married?

I am married with two kids. My son stays in the USA and my daughter is in India. I am a family man. I don’t live with my kids because they are now old enough to take care of themselves.

What is your favourite dish?

I am vegetarian.

I understand vegetarians drink Whisky is that so?

We do drink whisky whenever we have time. (Laughs)

What do you do during your spare time?

My brother I do not have spare time. It’s either I am invited to some function or I’m working for the BDP.

You are a well respected Businessman in the country. What advice would you give to aspiring businesspersons?

Be true to your plan. Be honest and patient. You must know that it takes time to realise your dream. Work through your dream and make it a reality. But most importantly live below your means, don’t rush to buy an expensive car or go on an expensive holiday, which you can hardly afford. Spend on goods when you have a surplus. The other thing that young Batswana need to do is copy ideas from the developed world and implement them here. It is easy to make money in Botswana than it is in New York.

What advice would you give to those who feel frustrated by their jobs and are itching to go into business?

My advice is that first appreciate that somebody has given you a job. Treasure it; in whatever you do don’t think of money all the time. Try to always exceed your employer’s expectations. Be the best in your work and love your job. You shall be happy and prosper in life if you do these things. Always take care of company property. That will teach you to be responsible of your own one day. Your work should speak for you.

Feel good it’s Friday what are you up to?

It is a normal day for me. I will be going home and later attend to social events.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for conducting this interview with that man. I really respect n look up to him. I mean who on earth just run a loss for the fun of it? wow!!! thank u Mmika

  2. Looks like you have little respect for setswana no wonder you do not speak it. Its a such a shame that a country that has given you so much you trash by not learning the language. I guess the fools are those that gave you citizenship and opportunities at the expense of the locals !

  3. "I have always helped finance the BDP. I was recruited into the party four years ago. As a member of the party I was recently asked to contest for the position of deputy treasurer and I won. And now I am ready to serve the party in that capacity." Sad, Very Sad