Friday, April 28, 2006

Botswana: The Miner Turned Nudist-Publisher

April 27, 2006
Posted to the web April 27, 2006

Tomeletso Sereetsi

What do you make of a man who relieves stress by running stark naked by the side of the road at two in the morning? That is only when there are thunderstorms. When he does not venture outside, he does, still in the nude, climb onto the roof of his house in Block 5 and let the rain pelt down his body.

Sounds weird but that is how Sunday Standard editor and publisher, Lekgomethe Montsamaisabosigo (shortened for Outsa) Mokone describes his rather unusual way of dealing with life's stresses and strains.

'I think I am a nudist at heart,' Mokone says with a straight face.

Perhaps 'different' is the word to go by because his life story is replete with that theme. While his peers awaited Form Five examinations results, he left for the (in)famous Western Deep Level mines in South Africa. The extravagant fashion sense and the big houses of the miners from his native Molepolole had convinced that a stint at the mine would enable him to afford those. All he wanted was to make money. However, for all his labour, scouring for glory underneath the earth, it was not to be. He fled the place after two months without a coin to rub between his fingers.

'As a miner you were a minor then. They would bring us clothes catalogues. We would look over them, place orders and the mine would pay for us. We would just receive the clothes. We were treated like small children. I got into trouble for refusing to address my senior as baas,' he recalls.

Mokone realized, just in time, that it was time to go back home for national service because he saw no future in mining. It was once again the pursuit of money that landed him in a newsroom while still a student at the University of Botswana. Descended from a long lineage of prolific writers who plied their trade in the then apartheid South Africa, he also happened to have the talent to express himself well with the pen. Thus begun a long marriage with journalism, shaping it as much as it influenced his view of the world and of himself. It became this place where his name became synonymous with a knack for getting himself entangled in controversy. But to his own admission, he is just being himself and doing things that seem very normal to him. They only happen to blow into controversy when they reach the public sphere, he has observed.

'I believe in different things. I don't believe in gender equality. I am a male supremacist. Men are men. Women are women. You cannot judge women with the same standard as men. I may be branded radical for such a stance but it only makes me conservative. I will never apologize for being who I am,' Mokone says.

Whether he follows controversy or it finds him is another issue. But it is almost certain that where he is, controversy is never that far off. It is the stuff of legend in the media industry here.

The former president, Ketumile Masire once confronted Mokone at the national assembly, accusing him of making the country ungovernable through his writings. Mokone had written a story on the corrupt practices at the National Development Bank that incriminated several big guns in the Government Enclave. Mokone opines that Masire must have been under a lot of stress as that was the day the University of Botswana students forced their way into the parliament's chamber at the height of the Segametsi Mogomotsi saga.

'I respect him because he is an elder. I understood that he talked to me as an elder. I guess it haunts him that people thought that he was victimizing this helpless journalist. As a man I would have done the same thing as well. I felt bad when he later acted apologetically. I would never have done that. You don't have to apologise for instinct,' he says.

His journalism has won him a fair share of the industry's accolades, the most notable being second prize in the CNN Africa Journalist of the Year award for a story on cattle tax legislation. After winning it he sat back and took stock of the situation. He threw away the award because it nagged at his conscience. He felt used.

'It is like the West is now using awards to colonise us. They give us their own standards of what good journalism is. They will rather award an African to write about corruption in Africa than a westerner in the west. All the money in corruption in Africa is less than that in America alone. We should assess ourselves here. We would not grow our journalism if we chase awards. The biggest award is looking at your finished story and feeling great about it,' he asserts.

Today Mokone sees himself as a part-time journalist and a fulltime businessman.

'I am now a publisher. I would just be a publisher if I had to choose,' he says.


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