From poverty to busi­ness ty­coon

En­tre­pre­neur Lita Mbokotho tells DRUM about how he went from hum­ble be­gin­nings in the East­ern Cape to be­come a busi­ness ty­coon


THERE were bones in his lunch box, not meat, as that was all his fam­ily could af­ford. His par­ents ad­vised him to let oth­ers take the lead in lunches while he fo­cused on be­com­ing num­ber one in academics. It may not have made much sense at the time, but now Lita Mbokotho knows what it means to be at the top and be en­vied by his peers.

Co-founder and Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man of Tsori Cap­i­tal, a Pan-African ad­vi­sory, me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion, and gen­eral sup­ply ser­vices com­pany, the 34-year-old is a heavy­weight in the busi­ness world. His com­pany se­cures multi-mil­lion-rand ten­ders from Govern­ment and pro­vides em­ploy­ment to a num­ber of peo­ple from pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties.

The days of trav­el­ling long dis­tances, some­times bare­foot, to school in pur­suit of education are long gone. To­day, Lita holds a BCom ac­count­ing de­gree from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, an Hon­ours in Fi­nance from the Univer­sity of South Africa, and a Masters in Busi­ness Ad­min­is­tra­tion from the Univer­sity of Manch­ester in the UK, where he topped the global class in cor­po­rate fi­nance.

“It’s been quite a jour­ney for me and Iam­proud­ofmy­a­ca­dem­i­cachieve­ments,” he says, mak­ing him­self com­fort­able in his plush Pre­to­ria of­fice.

Lita tells us his pas­sion for busi­ness started at univer­sity with Pas­tel Ac­count­ing. His gift for the pro­gram mo­ti­vated him to con­sult for busi­nesses that wanted to im­prove their ac­count­ing sys­tems.

“At that time, most black-owned busi­nesses in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try were re­ly­ing on book­keep­ers and had no ac­count­ing sys­tems in place,” he ex­plains.

“Most of them used to pay heavy penal­ties to Sars due to the fact that their books were not in or­der.

“As a con­sul­tant, I had to ne­go­ti­ate with Sars to can­cel the penal­ties and only charge in­ter­est.

“The busi­nesses were not try­ing to evade tax – they had ca­pac­ity con­straints in their book­keep­ing. The harsh penal­ties would have forced the busi­nesses to shed a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of jobs.”

It was a win-win sit­u­a­tion for both the com­pa­nies and Sars.

I N 2010, Lita co-founded Tsori Cap­i­tal, which is cur­rently in­volved in a R25-mil­lion pro­ject to sup­port and ben­e­fit 64 co-op­er­a­tives and com­mu­ni­ties within the Dr Ken­neth Kaunda Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The ini­tia­tive is set to cre­ate 328 di­rect jobs and an­other 200 in­di­rect po­si­tions.

Job cre­ation is a big deal for Lita. He notes that the global down­turn in the min­ing in­dus­try has sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected em­ploy­ment.

“It be­came clear that it can’ t be busi­ness as usual any­more,” he tells us. “In re­sponse to this, Tsori Cap­i­tal de­vel­oped a co-op­er­a­tives pro­gramme that seeks to in­dus­tri­alise and di­ver­sify the economies of the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties where we are pro­vid­ing our ser­vice.”

The com­pany also has a fo­cus on women. Lita says he be­lieves women have real value to add to the busi­ness world, and that em­pow­er­ing women will make com­mu­ni­ties pros­per, thus help­ing to end the so­cio-eco­nomic ills that plague our coun­try.

He prides him­self on the fact that Tsori Cap­i­tal has a 70 % fe­male ma­jor­ity share­hold­ing.

“Tsori Cap­i­tal’s Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, Hom­bisa Mbokotho, is a woman, and the of­fice man­ager, Niza Nobaza, is fe­male and par­tially deaf,” he adds.

Lita’s com­pany may be rid­ing the crest of the wave right now, but he’s not shy to ad­mit that there’ve been dis­ap­point­ments along the way. He says one of his big­gest fail­ures has been in­vest­ing a lot of time and ef­fort into en­ter­ing what

‘It is not a curse to start small, but it is a curse to stay small‘

ended up as dys­func­tional part­ner­ships.

“I felt the part­ner­ships were dys­func­tional in the sense that some peo­ple want quick re­sults. Our vi­sions were not aligned and I de­cided it was best to just fly solo.”

How­ever, lessons have been learnt. “This taught me not to rush into any part­ner­ship and to con­duct a proper due dili­gence on peo­ple,” he says.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this was as an ex­pen­sive learn­ing process, as I lost money.”

ORIG­I­NALLY from Ngcobo in the East­ern Cape, Lita is grate­ful to his par­ents for rais­ing him and his sib­lings to value education.

“They en­cour­aged us from a young age to go through life with an at­ti­tude of grat­i­tude,” he re­calls. “The Bi­ble tells us to never de­spise small be­gin­nings. It is not a curse to start small, but it is a curse to stay small. So even if you go to school with­out shoes, don’t be dis­cour­aged – you are do­ing some­thing to change your sit­u­a­tion.”

Lita has been mar­ried to the com­pany’s CEO, Hom­bisa, for eight years. “We have been to­gether for 12 years al­to­gether,” he says. “She was my univer­sity sweet­heart.”

The cou­ple has two chil­dren, Likhanye (9) and Elihle (4), and there’s noth­ing the busi­ness­man likes more than spend­ing some qual­ity time with his fam­ily.

“I love spend­ing time in the bush at game re­serves with my wife,” he says. “We of­ten take time off and dis­ap­pear into the tran­quil­lity and beauty of the African wilder­ness. Do­ing game drives in the morn­ing and evening re­laxes our minds.”

Lita is also pas­sion­ate about youth de­vel­op­ment.

“I don’t be­lieve our Govern­ment has done enough in the past,” he says. “But it’s cur­rently do­ing a lot through its own ini­tia­tives and sup­port­ing ini­tia­tives like ours. The pri­vate sec­tor also has to work with Govern­ment to cre­ate new in­dus­tries, thereby in­creas­ing the coun­try’s tax base and cre­at­ing jobs.”

Lita does his bit by rais­ing funds through his busi­ness part­ners to help young peo­ple start their own busi­nesses.

They, in turn, must em­ploy other young peo­ple and women.

Clearly, an­other Lita-in­spired win- win sit­u­a­tion.

MAIN PIC­TURE: Busi­ness­man Lita Mbokotho is the found­ing part­ner and di­rec­tor of Tsori Cap­i­tal.

ABOVE: Lita and his CEO wife, Hom­bisa, at one of the many events that their suc­cess­ful busi­ness hosts.

LEFT: Lita (cen­tre) is pas­sion­ate about youth de­vel­op­ment in South Africa. Here the chair­man is pic­tured at one of his com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes at an East­ern Cape School.

LEFT: It’s not all work for the mogul, he also loves hol­i­day­ing in prime lo­ca­tions like Cape Town.

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