Botlhale Tema was born in Johannesburg and raised in small villages and townships in the western Transvaal. She studied the sciences in South Africa and the United Kingdom. She has worked as a teacher, and was the first secretary general of the South African National Commission for UNESCO. She was later seconded by the Department of Science and Technology to the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, where she was the director of Human Resources, Science and Technology. Botlhale is now retired but is involved in community development projects and the promotion of social entrepreneurship.