Keith Bothongo, Esquire, has a string of achievements that could fill this magazine. He has striven for excellence from a young age. When he was 11 years old, he joined Bafenyi boxing club in Gaborone, Botswana, and became a formidable competitor, representing Botswana in boxing tournaments throughout the SADC region. He says that his boxing years helped him to become bold and fearless – characteristics which would later prove priceless in the business environment.

Bothongo’s broad range of interests and his passion for learning have seen him achieve in every sphere, including academics. He has a Bachelor’s degree in economics and statistics from the University of Botswana and an MBA and a Master’s degree in international management from the University of St Thomas, Minnesota, USA. In 2011, he decided to study law too and now holds an LLB (Honours) as well as an LLM in commercial and international law from the University of Buckingham. He was also awarded the Morayo Atoki Prize for best overall LLM student.

Bothongo was the first black property valuer in South Africa. He has grown the Bothongo Group from the first commercial building he purchased in Johannesburg in 1998 to include businesses in South Africa, the UK and Canada spanning real estate, law, biotechnology, agriculture, hospitality and other sectors. In 2018, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP).

Pushing boundaries and exploring new horizons

Bothongo is a true Afropolitan and cosmopolitan. Born in Soweto, he was schooled in Botswana, attended university in the USA, relocated back to South Africa where he started and developed his business, and now lives in the UK, travelling to South Africa regularly to oversee his company’s various entities.

My mom and dad taught me to treat everyone with respect, to dream beyond the sky and to believe in myself.

“My advice to other entrepreneurs is to follow your heart; follow your passion,” he says. “Believe in yourself. Seek challenges and don’t settle for complacency.” It’s certainly worked for Bothongo, who has followed his passion for entrepreneurship since childhood. From his school days in Zone 8, Meadowlands, where his parents settled after being forcibly removed from Sophiatown in 1959, he always had a side hustle. In university, he stepped it up a notch, selling handbags instead of sweets and fruits, and then getting a loan with the help of his father, a police detective, to buy two tipper trucks to start a more formal business.

“My parents and my grandmother are my mentors who have influenced me most in my life,” he says. “They first taught me to fear God, because all blessings come from God. They taught me to be tenacious and to be able to survive through adversity. My mom and dad taught me to treat everyone with respect, to dream beyond the sky and to believe in myself.”

Life lessons worth sharing

It was while he was studying in the USA that his interest in real estate was sparked, and it proved to be a lifelong passion. In fact, Bothongo says his best career decision was to follow that passion so rigorously.

His biggest business lesson has been learning patience and perseverance. “It took me more than two years before my first property’s funding was approved, and three out of the four banks rejected my proposal,” he says. “Now, banks come to me to offer me funding, and I set the terms.”

Bothongo attributes his success to daring to be a visionary, perseverance in chasing his dreams and to understanding that any venture needs to be built on a foundation of honesty and integrity.

“I would like to leave a great legacy of selflessness and humility,” he says. He’s a family man, with nine children from his two marriages. His second wife, Olga Bothongo, also works in the Bothongo Group, running an events and décor business, aptly called Olga’s. Bothongo says one of his dreams is that all his children will one day join the family business.

“I’d like to encourage everyone reading to follow their dreams. It’s not always easy – you will stumble. You will fall, but you need to get up, dust yourself off and keep going. Keep trying. Eventually you will get there. Be focused, be determined and persevere. Forget about what other people say or think. Take fear of failure out of the equation,” he concludes.

 “Forget about what other people say or think. Take fear of failure out of the equation.”