LADYBRAND - “In both the good and bad I believe the means justifies the end, even in my businesses,” says renowned businessman Teboho JP Mojapela.Besides being a politician, JP is a very successful businessman.Did he wake up a millionaire? Business Eye spoke to the mogul to answer this and other questions.
BE: Narrate your upbringing.
JP: I was born on May 13, 1969 in Mokhotlong and raised by Ntate Abiel Mojapela and my mom ‘Mamatela Mojapela. I am the last of three siblings. I was lucky to be raised by parents of that calibre. They were caring, loving, giving and very intelligent people. I learned a lot from them and, if I may say so, they made me. Some of my characteristics emanate from them.
Although they were very good parents, they were no nonsense type, especially my father. I was not in his good books though because I was one of the problematic of his children. But he was not always around since he worked at the mines.My parents were loving and you would swear they are a brother and a sister. But unlike them, I am not as good in relationships which is why I divorced. The thing is, I never had time for girls since I was a shepherd and on school holidays I would go meraka. Even the way I do things I do it like a shepherd, that is where I developed my manhood.
BE: How far did you go with your education?
TM: I hold a masters degree in law. My school journey commenced in 1975 when I started attending Molumong Primary School for five years. In 1981 I went to Mokhotlong LEC Primary to complete standard 6 and 7. In my performance I ranged between position one and four. I got second class pass, and remember then it was a good pass because education was not as easy as it is now. With those results, I was admitted at St James High School. I was one of the most hard working learners when I got there. But I recall, I used to fight a lot. I recall I was in the same class with former Police Commissioner Letsoela.
We used to fight a lot at school but him and 'Machabana Lemphane were true geniuses and always got higher marks. I was not a reading person back; instead I was a very good listener who would listen and get things correctly. I only did my form A in 1983 and completed my Junior Certificate in 1985. I did not get good results as I expected because, like I said, I was very troublesome and was a bully.
However, it was still a Second Class though I was not very happy with my results. I knew if I had worked harder I could have been among the First Class passes. I recall in 1990, as an adult, there was a concert at Mokhotlong, and ntate Lekoala (his high School teacher) summoned some learners. He said he had never encountered a pupil as problematic and stubborn as I was. Fortunately, my reputation for hard work saved me and I was spared the boot and only got warnings from the school.
I thereafter went to Thabeng High school where I got my nickname JP. Before telling you about JP, let me relate some few points. Before I went to Thabeng, the school was one of the best performing schools. In 1986 when I got there, there were lots of strikes. Learners were very unruly. If I remember clearly ntate Sentle Thabane was the Principal, that man was a tyrant; he would beat everyone from teachers to students but then the school did very well. I believe Lesotho needs such kind of people to bring order in the country because if there are no firm people things get out of hand.
The school was a mess and that is where the school started deteriorating. We skipped classes as a result of riots, and this was the time most of the syllabus was supposed to be covered when I was doing my COSC, hence I got a Third Class.Thabeng is where my entrepreneurship started. I would sell apples and oranges. Then an orange was 5c. I realized early that business can make a difference.
High school was where guys learned how to smoke and drink beer and started dating. To date I never got interested in smoking and drinking. Maybe if I started dating then I would know how to handle women’s behaviour better (he laughs). I was interested in sports and that is where the name JP started and most people think it an abbreviation from my surname. I was a very good football player and while I was playing you would feel my presence.
The cheerers would shout “Ray Phiri” when I kick the ball. But out of nowhere they started saying “JP, JP, JP…” Believe me noone knew I was Mojapela for real. From that day everybody started calling me JP and that is where I got the name.
BE: And then, after COSC. What did you do?
JP: I did not want to go back to school so I told my dad that I want to join him in the mines. He did not agree with me but I was stubborn and the similar thing happened when I started SR. I stand for what is correct.I applied at the mines and at NUL. It was only in 1988 when I got admitted at NUL and at the mines. To be or not to be, that was a question but I chose the mines over varsity. Remember I had just turned 2o. I went to SA and then apartheid was in full force. That was the only time I realised puppets.
I fought with Afrikaners because of the way the treated us at the mines hoping I would get support from my colleagues but couldn’t get any because all they thought about was the fear of being fired. I was extremely frustrated because white people treated us like their small boys. I had to leave the mines. That is when I reapplied at NUL in 1991 but since I had not withdrawn officially I was denied another chance. I then got a job at LHDA as a driver.
BE: How did you start your first business?
Like I mentioned, I do not drink, smoke or date, so with the little salary I got from LHDA, I saved the money and worked overtime while most of my peers were busy spending their money.To my surprise, people who earned more at work would borrow money from me.I recall one guy called Taoana from Motimposo was the first person I started my business with. He borrowed money from me then one day I told him to bring it with interest. Then he told his friends and the friends told the other so soon I was in business and doing very well.
In 1992, I reapplied again at NUL and I was admitted. I continued lending people money till I was on my second year 1995. In my third year at varsity my business collapsed. I am a hustler; I would sell perfumes and maize and get some cash. Soon I had to withdraw from NUL to revive my business.Default Basic Success warning Info Danger Primary