Friday, December 14, 2007

Reducing Southern Africa to a mere village

Quest for knowledge is a vital ingredient in all human endeavors. Greed for knowledge has forced a human being to undertake dangerous, hazardous and even fatal escapades.

The drive for a human being, in all aspects is to know, understand and utilize anything that would make him or her assume recognition in any endeavor he or she had undertaken.

The quest for knowledge has forced man, since time immemorial, to jump into a space ship and zoom to the uncharted spaces. It has forced man to hit the bottom rock of the deepest sea; it has also forced man to climb the tallest mountain.

The same quest for knowledge forced me, a reporter from Malawi to apply for an exchange programme, which NSJ was coordinating and I was attached to Public Eye, the leading newspaper in Lesotho.

Taking into account that Lesotho is within the Southern African region, and also after making several trips to South Africa, I had sketchy a picture of Lesotho politically, socially, economically and culturally.

With the fusion of cultural elements of the Bantu people and economic elements of the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) which both Malawi and Lesotho belong, I had a picture of Lesotho which was more like South Africa economic wise and more like Malawi culturally. I was slightly wrong.

Armed with my knowledge of journalism, on April 31, 2007 I stepped into the Basotho land through the Maseru Boarder with South Africa for the first time, virtually with nothing to worry as I thought after working for a weekly newspaper in Malawi, a weekly in Lesotho would be a continuation of what I do in Malawi.

The first element to hit on my face was the fact that if I had to do my job well and enjoy my two months stay in Lesotho I had to learn Sesotho, the country's national language and I had to do it quickly. Lesotho is a country whose people enjoy speaking its language and nothing more.

My first days at Public Eye newspapers were basically spent on acclimatising; I was trying to understand the daily operations of the newspaper. Everything was a little bit different in the way the day to day operations were being conducted and I had to be fast in everything, to adapt.

Public Eye is a weekly newspaper that comes out on Friday, however, all the stories were supposed to be on the desk of the News Editor by Monday, unlike in my country at the newspaper I work, Malawi News a weekly also, stories are supposed to be ready by Thursday noon.

This departure, brought into me a sense of discipline to adhere to those new deadlines at least if I had to have my stories published.

Lesotho print media industry is comparatively small to Malawi. The country has got no daily paper; it has only one newspaper, Public Eye, in essence because the other so-called newspapers are printed on A-4 bond paper, looking more like a school magazine than a commercial newspaper.

Working in such environment would sound easier for every journalist taking into account that there is no serious competition, but in Lesotho the story is different, almost every newspaper printed in South Africa finds its way into Lesotho, in other words, Public Eye's competitors are none other the South Africa giants including the Sowetan, The Star, Mail & Guardian, The City Press and all other big papers. .

The big challenge to reporters, mainly at Public Eye, was to make the paper survive in such a juxtaposed market. Obviously the onus was on the reporters to come up with stories that would capture the interest of the Basotho people to give preference to their local newspapers when it is on the market with those big and well established newspapers.

As a reporter, in a new environment, seeking information, almost anything and everything was a way to take. Things that were basic and common to the Basotho people were strange and compound to me.

For Example, one day I asked why the Maseru City Assembly would allow people, including the Deputy Prime Minister, to keep cattle, right in the backyard of their houses in the city, a thing which is unheard of in Malawi. They shrugged their shoulders.

This other day I wondered why women in Lesotho, mostly those who have children, take their first child's name add a prefix 'Ma' and assume the name as theirs replacing their real names. I was told that was part of their tradition. Actually I was told a woman, in Lesotho, is legally recognised as a minor. I did a story, not for Public Eye, but for Malawi News. In Lesotho it was not newsworthy.

My seeking for explanation and answers for news articles and also as a survival tactic, sharpened my interviewing skills, my perception, sensitiveness and understanding of issues.

I had to understand issues before any attempt to write a story. I had to take into account all elements of social-economic, cultural and political issues so as not to offend or disappoint the people of Lesotho or not to attract scorn for myself for publishing something which I did not understand.

My stay is Lesotho would have been a nightmare or less eventful if the reporters at Public Eye had decided to abandon me and my other colleagues, Sinqobile Ndlovu from Zimbabwe and Augustine Mukoka from Zambia.

Masepoine Mokhetho, a female reporter, Thabang Loko, a sports reporter, Monke Sepamo a photographer, Thabo, a graphic designer and the News Editor Tapera Chikuvira made it possible for me and my friends to find Lesotho habitable.

The crew, at different times and in different situations, tried within their powers to make us understand what Lesotho is all about, what the aspirations of the people of Lesotho are, what is it that piss them off as well as what made the people of Lesotho different from people from other areas in the region.

It is not surprising to note that up to this date I always have an account of their lives, what they are doing and even their hopes. Networking or interaction has not been limited to the reporters in Lesotho. I have been in touch with Augustine and Sinqobile.

These people despite being friends, they have turned out to be my source of information. If I want information in their country I do not hesitate but to drop a line to them, and I am assured of their cooperation.

Such kind of cooperation has made the Sadc region as one village with journalists networking in such a manner that one would think they belong to the same publishing house and posted in different bureaus.

The cooperation has also increased confidence in journalists within the Sadc to tackle regional issues as they happen to have practical experience of the regional relationships.

To me anything to do with Lesotho generates interest because partly, after staying two months in that country, I regard the country as my home.

But would I tell Malawians my experience? The attempt to publicize the programme was through the stories I was writing for my newspaper in Malawi when I was in Lesotho.

As a reporter, anything that was a bit strange to me, though not to Basotho, I was writing a story for my Malawians audience.

In such a way I come back from Lesotho wiser and I believe so too are Malawians, since they were benefiting from the stories I was doing when I was in Lesotho.

My stay in Lesotho also assisted my critical analysis of the newspaper we produce; I have a benchmark to compare. Whether we are doing well in Malawi is for others to tell, but since then I regard myself not as a Malawian reporter but a regional reporter.

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