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Raised by a carton of chibuku

Kabelo Dipholo
PROUD: The couple's grandchildren at the mall's official opening
  • The remarkable rise of the Mahube Empire

In the early 80s, Tipson Ndiyapo Mahube was a Marketing Manager at Shell Oil Botswana, traversing the northern side of the country to sell petroleum products.

In his numerous visits to the mining town of Orapa, his attention was grabbed by one particular diamond: Josephine, a nurse in the town of opulence in 1981.

As the visits to Boteti became more frequent and increasingly intimate, a long-lasting bond between man and woman was created. 41 years after first setting eyes on each other, the inseparable lovebirds are still going strong.

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Today, Mahube and his wife run an empire that includes: Teemane Mall in Letlhakane, two filling stations, a lodge, restaurant, town houses and several properties leased out to others businesses, such as Nandos and Debonairs Pizza.

The couple can afford holidays anywhere on the planet, and are rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of this world.

However, in their own words, life hasn’t always been this rosy.

Both were raised from humble beginnings in Maitengwe.

“My wife studied nursing, while I didn’t go that far in school, but did some courses that allowed me to compete in my line of work,” explains Mahube.

Raised by a carton of chibuku
FLASHBACK: Mr and Mrs Mahube with their grandkids

The businessman said their journey started in 1984 when, during one of his periodic visits to Letlhakane, he ran into the owner of a popular General Dealer and Chibuku Depot in the village, who expressed a desire to sell up.

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“He said he was tired of running the business, and I jokingly asked him to let me know should he think of selling,” remembers Mahube.

The two would run into each other again a year later in a chance meeting in Palapye, where the owner reminded him of their previous conversation.

“The statement was made in jest. I mean, I didn’t even have money to buy a business of that size, and here was a man offering me an opportunity to buy his shop,” says Mahube of that fateful March afternoon in 1985 that would shape his destiny.

Nevertheless, intrigued, the following month the Mahubes went for a site visit. Valuation of the business, including the shop, engine room, a truck and stock was done, amounted to P43, 200 – a lot of money back then!

“In our account at that moment we only had P1, 500. The only other thing we owned was my wife’s old hilux, valued at P4, 500,” he said.

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Lady luck smiled on the lovebirds, as the owner assured them he was not in any hurry to recoup his money and was willing to give them a flexible payment plan.

“We gave him the hilux and P1, 500 cash as deposit,” interjected Mrs Mahube, adding they immediately sought legal advice from Mosojane/Phumaphi Law firm, who drew up a sale agreement.

On 6th May 1985 they were the proud owners of a General Dealer and Chibuku Depot in Letlhakane.

“We paid monthly installments, and by November 1986 we paid our last installment,” she reveals proudly.

MmaMahube had so much faith in the new business that she immediately quit her nursing job to focus on running the shop. Within weeks, she had completely turned it around.

“The place was a beehive of activity. On a daily basis, customers on donkey carts, wheelbarrows and large zinc bathtubs came to collect chibuku. For many years chibuku was our mainstay, and was the reason we were able to pay-off our installments,” notes ‘Josephine’ as she was called by her customers.

Mahube, who was still employed by Shell, made Francistown-Letlhakane trips every Friday to deliver stock at their new shop.

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“The tarred road went as far as the old Francistown airport. From there I’d hit the gravel for hours. I did that religiously every week for 12 months,” he said.

After much coaxing from his wife, Mahube finally quit his job that May.

“I didn’t have the faith she had. But after observing for 12 months the amount of money we were making from selling chibuku and fat cakes, I was convinced that this was what we were supposed to be doing,” he said.

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In 1988, through the assistance of the founding Shell Managing Director, Stephen Steenkamp, who was also Botswana’s first President, Seretse Khama’s Private Secretary to the President (PSP), Mahube began construction of his first filling station.

He said Steenkamp, who was saddened by his resignation, came to see his shop in Letlhakane, and the idea of a filling station was hatched.

“I had always wanted a filling station, but had no guts to pitch the idea to him,” he admits.

“I picked him up in Francistown on a Tuesday morning. After a short tour of the premises, he took a few strides from the shop and declared, ‘Tipson how about a filling station?’ He said since Shell did not have any pension, the filling station would be my commission. It was gift from Shell, hence we called it Tapinda,” Mahube reveals with a chuckle.

The petrol station was commissioned in 1989; slowly the empire was taking shape.

Later, the couple added Jozi Fashion Boutique, Granny’s Kitchen, Granny’s Lodge in 1992, Salon Sharon, Video Marshal and in 2000 they built town houses.

Most of the inspiration came from their frequent travels to Johannesburg aboard their Peugeot.

“We went to many showrooms and that’s where our fashions senses were heightened, and Jozi Fashions was born,” notes Josephine.

The boutique proved incredibly popular, with A-list clients such as the current Vice President, Slumber Tsogwane, top legal brains like Mosojane, Phumaphi and a host of Members of Parliament regularly popping in.

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“We travelled with our eyes opened. Granny’s Kitchen was inspired by Mike’s Kitchen in Joburg while the town house was an inspiration after seeing town houses along the East Gate Mall.”

The parents of four recently embarked on one of their biggest projects yet, a P140 million shopping mall in Letlhakane.

Phase one of the mall included a filling station in 2010 financed to the tune of P4 million by CEDA, which began operating in 2013. By 2019, they had repaid the CEDA loan and were now attracting the attention of big businesses such as Nandos and Debonaries, who saw huge potential in the 8-hectare piece of land.

In 2021, in partnership with Time Projects, construction of Teemane Mall commenced, officially opening its doors last Saturday (see Pg 6A).

The two workaholics, however, are not sitting on their laurels and are already thinking about phase two of the mall.

“We’re always working and we don’t consider ourselves as rich. No one is whipping us to do what we’re doing, we just love doing it,” Mahube concludes, casting yet another adoring look at his wife.

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