The importance of being Tshephang Mabaila


Martin Scorsese’s 1990 classic mafia film Goodfellas has a scene where Karin Hill (Lorraine Brancco) is awed by her young date Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) at Copacabana Restaurant.

After private backdoor access, high-class tables and exclusive champagnes, Karin, visibly impressed by her seemingly connected young date, begs to know: “What do you do?”

Last Sunday at the Lady Khama Charitable Trust Family Fun Day, I had the Karin Hill-esque awe after meeting an apparently connected young man who was eager to demonstrate how very close he was to the President.

He introduced himself as ‘Tshephang Mabaila’.  Noticing that his name did not ring a bell he mentioned that his name was mentioned in the ‘damning’ Asparagus revelations, in which self-proclaimed hackers published a list of alleged security intelligence agents.

“You should interview me,” he advised before adding, “If you put me on the front page, your sales will go up”.

So what makes this young man think his story can sell newspapers? Who is he and what is his claim to fame?

Our rendezvous for the interview is at his office at Ministry of Lands in the Old Capitol building at the Main Mall.

A placard on the office door reads: ‘Tshephang Mabaila Principal Anti-Corruption Officer I.’

Clean-shaven with a brush cut and dressed in a dark grey slim fit suit, the young man is looking dapper. His smile reveals braces on his teeth and from across the big desk he narrates his story, while oozing confidence.

Mabaila (27) hails from Sebinanyana ward in Serowe. He says he was ‘‘born and bred in Serowe.” He did his primary school at Tshekedi Primary School, then went to Metsimasweu Secondary School before completing at Swaneng Hill School in 2005.

The same year he joined the Botswana Defence Force in the rank of private. Interestingly on LinkedIn – the professional business oriented networking website – Mabaila says he has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the discredited Belford University.

Mabaila quit the army after serving seven years.

“In 2012 I resigned from the BDF because I wanted to seek greener pastures and start my foundation,” he said.

At the age of 24 he established a foundation called Mabaila Foundation that he says aims to assist senior citizens.

“After being raised by grandparents, I realised that we needed to do more to assist our senior citizens. I noticed that many philanthropists were ignoring the senior citizens,” he said.

Mabaila Foundation has been donating blankets and fruit trees to the elderly every year since 2013. This year he donated 50 blankets and 10 fruit trees to the poverty eradication appeal under the Office of the President.

At this year’s blankets handover, the then acting Minister of Presidential Affairs and Public Administration, Phillip Makgalemele, who received the donation on behalf of President Ian Khama, described Mabaila as “a true leader of tomorrow”.

Mabaila reveals a number of initiatives for Mogoditshane.

“The foundation will soon be supplying spectacles to bring back sight to the elderly people in Mogoditshane. There will also be Academic Excellence Awards for Mogoditshane schools. We will work with our funders to pave roads in Mogoditshane and we are also working to change the crime stigma of Mogoditshane,” he says.

Mabaila reveals that he is part of the National Men’s Sector Committee and travels around the country motivating the youth and men.

A year after quitting the army and establishing the foundation Mabaila joined the public service in 2013. Although he is cagey about his current job at the Ministry of Lands he says he wanted to continue to serve the public.

He lives a lavish lifestyle. He drives the latest Mercedes Benz C-Class and has a house in Mogoditshane.The youthful philanthropist is evasive about how he is making his money only sharing that he was “saving a lot during his army days.”

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I’m not an outgoing person. Sometimes I sell clothes, and bags from India and they give good profits,” he states.

In May 2015, Mabaila’s name shot to controversy after reports of a hacking attack at the Directorate of Intelligence Service. A local radio station mentioned his name together with a cabinet minister in allegations of unsavoury relationships with the President.

“I am suing the radio station. That was irresponsible and shameful of the station. How can they talk about an elder like that? That was disrespect to the President,” he says.

Top of the documents on the inside tray on Mabaila’s desk are summon letters from his lawyers, which were served to the local radio station from whom he is demanding damages for defamation.

He, however, flatly refuses to comment on whether he has a personal relationship with the President. At the Lady Khama Charitable Trust Family Fun Day, he was seen ordering presidential guards around to the point of telling some of them to stop “getting in and out of Morena’s vehicle”. Mabaila only has great things to say about the President.

“He is my commander in chief from the army. You know that once a soldier, always a soldier. I admire him. I take him as a mentor to me. I take him as a role model. As a motivational speaker to me. He is my President.”

The 27-year-old also has political ambitions.

“Next year I am resigning from the public service to focus on politics. I want to represent the people of Mogoditshane. The elders there asked me to do so. “Mogoditshane needs me.”

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