He has taken the local film industry by storm. And Africa is embracing him. Thabiso Maretlwaneng through his production company Dee Zone has created jobs and served aspirations of budding actors while rendering quality products to the market. His outstanding work has earned him one of Africa’s top awards – African Achievers Award; an honour previously bestowed on among others former Malawian president Joyce Banda, late Ghana president Atta Mills, Raji Fashola and great icons like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late Komla Afeke Dumor.
Maretlwaneng is a living proof that age is not a hindrance to success – you just have to be hungry enough to pursue your goal. Success is part of his DNA. As a young boy he played karate and was rarely defeated. He started winning medals for the country from a tender age of 13 when he got a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships. He remembers very well that his passion for winning steered when he was very young. At every karate championships he always told himself: “I will beat the hell out of these people”. He said the most important thing that he believes helped him is the focus that he learnt from his sporting career. Karate is a discipline sport where even after beating someone or losing over them, you still bow to them, something that taught Maretlwaneng so much about life. It was karate that paved the way for him because after he did well he got a scholarship to go and study in Australia. He decided to study Film and Television.
Upon completion of his degree programme, he returned home to make a difference in the local film industry. He worked for a couple of companies before he decided to establish his production company Dee Zone. He got in the industry when everyone thought it just couldn’t work. “The motivation that I had was that after doing a documentary in a foreign country that went for an international film festival, I knew I could do this,” he said. As a professional he was convinced had more to offer a market that has been dominated mostly by South African television and content. He focussed on coming with competitive content for Botswana Television.
Hands on man
One thing that is apparent about the young vibrant film director is that he is always hands on with his crew. This makes it hard to pick the owner from the crew at first interaction with them. He believes that he is still young, and as such there is so much energy that he can give to the young people that work for him and lead them because film production is what he knows best. The excitement that they have brought to Batswana is what inspires him every day to come up with productions. Being hands-on in production work has long been his passion while being on suits or formal wear contributes to only 10% of his career. He said his first production was First Issues, and even though he was fresh from school, he knew that for a bank like First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) to trust him with such kind of production he had to really be hands on and work hard. At the moment Maretlwaneng and his crew are working on the last episodes of Ntwakgolo and also shooting Pelokgale at the same time. They also have to do other weekly shows like Pula Power.
He is a big brand now; and someone wouldn’t believe that Maretlwaneng has worked in the set of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency doing props while he wished to be behind the camera. With the qualifications that he had he did not resist the role. It gave him the chance to work hard and learn that there is nothing that comes out of sleep because he worked on set 12 hours every day, only resting on Sundays. “A working condition like that showed me exactly how my life was going to be,” he said. Since he made that decision Maretlwaneng has never had a vacation because he believes it is not yet time for him to relax because he is still building his empire. He said his vision is to create an empire where 20 productions can be done at the same time and ultimately have a full functioning television channel. He said he is still learning even how to work with employees that are more than 50. Right now they have raised the bar so high where people always expect quality from them.
Maretlwaneng said whenever he makes a production he does not consider Botswana only as the potential market, but the international market. He said they have partnered with many international companies to do productions that Africa will appreciate “I am proud of the developments that I have made in the local arts,” he said. There is no doubt that there are big things in the pipeline for Dee Zone Productions. Last year, he funded his team of nine to New Orleans for a workshop which taught them a lot and made them realise his vision of creating a film empire.
Family, fast foods
When he is not working he spends time with his family, letting his son understand that to get everything in this world he has to work hard. He said one part in his life where he thinks he has failed dismally is neglecting his health because from 60 kg karate champion he got bigger because he depended on fast foods when out shooting. This then makes it unbelievable that he is a 5-time African champion and two times World Junior champion medallist when looking at him now. Maretlwaneng intends to take his health more seriously the same way he takes his career.