A legend of the pen

Boitumelo Maswabi
MENTOR AND COACH: Pamela Sethunya Dube

Celebrating an ‘old-school’ media marvel

When it comes to local journalists, few can rival the exploits and experiences of Pamela Sethunya Dube.

Thrust into the fire of reporting the final days of Apartheid at the start of her career, Sis Pam has gone on to work for some of the biggest newspapers in both South Africa and Botswana.

As the World commemorates Press Freedom Day, Voice Woman celebrates the Mahalapye native and her incredible journey, with the pen, politics and presidents featuring heavily…

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Who inspired you to go into journalism?

On completion of my Form Five at Mater Spei in Francistown, I studied Business Studies, but instead ventured into the media fraternity in 1991, as a cub reporter at Mmegi.

I can’t point to a specific person as having inspired me, but from an early age, I was an avid reader.

I recall when I was once asked what career I wanted by an English teacher at Junior Secondary, I said, “Anything where you work with books.” His response was, “Librarian,” and I was not sure what that was, but I answered in the affirmative.

By then, a former senior at Mater Spei, Pako Teita, who was with Radio Botswana, would speak of excitement of doing news, and I knew that’s what I wanted.

Take us through the early years of your career.

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After a year in the field, I was sent to Egypt for professional mass media training.

On return in 1993, I went for three months attachment to The Weekly Mail (Mail & Guardian) in Johannesburg.

On completion, the newspaper gave me full-time employment.

That was the time of high political tensions in South Africa.

As the only black political reporter at the newspaper, I was thrown in the deep end, covering mainly township violence.

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It was at the time of the so-called ‘Black on Black’ violence, where the state-sponsored Inkatha Freedom Party hostel dwellers and the African National Congress (ANC) members were involved in intense killings and attacks.

By December 1993, I was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, to the extent that one morning I put a call to the then Managing Director of Mmegi, Methaetsile Leepile, to request a return home.

In just a week, a Mmegi truck arrived to collect me and my few possessions, something my industry colleagues in Johannesburg would laugh at, saying, “O S’bamo (Sethunya in Zulu), se tshabang s’bamo…”

It wasn’t long before you returned to SA, what lured you back?

Retuning to ‘normal’ political reporting at Mmegi left me yearning for the return to the action in SA.

Just before the April 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa, I joined the leading Black daily, The Sowetan.

It was back to action, as a provincial reporter, covering the Gauteng legislature and all that is politics in the most populous province.

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Two years into the job, I was promoted to senior political reporter, and became one of the first 10 journalists on President Nelson Mandela’s press corps.

Before 1999 elections, I was assigned Parliamentary Correspondent and moved to Cape Town.

I was now part of President Thabo Mbeki’s press corps, but the slow pace of the Mother City was not for me.

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I moved back to Johannesburg, now with the Sunday Independent. During the 11 years in South Africa, I undertook several interesting foreign assignments and missions.

In 1995, I went on a three months exchange programme, intended for South African black journalists, to different media houses in three different cities in Germany: Frankfurt, Bonn and Berlin.

You must have some great stories of your time there?

Too many. Being a political journalist in a fast-paced country was on its own exciting.

But it was the many travels with the founding president, that were never short of incidents.

The one particular trip was when President Mandela came for a state visit in Botswana, during President Sir Ketumile Masire’s administration.

On the press team was a fellow Motswana, the late Kopano Rammekwa, who was with Bop TV.

The SA leader was known to don only ‘Mandela shirts’ in public.

But, when we landed at Sir Seretse Khama Airport, we disembarked to wait for him as protocol demanded.

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To everyone’s surprise, when he came down, he was wearing an ugly brown suit he wore for the three days we were here.

On the way back, I ventured to ask him why a suit, and his response, “Botswana is a conservative country. You must wear a suit to greet Rre Masire…”

Though exciting, South Africa is a difficult place to live in.

The ever present fear of violent crime is not something one can get used to.

Of course, dealing with remnants of racism is difficult, too.

Let’s talk about your time as founding editor of Mokgosi.

As the years catch up with one, the yearn for home is too strong to ignore.

So, in 2002, a call from my mentor and ever present big brother, Leepile, came through.

He shared his dream of starting a Setswana language newspaper.

He did not have to convince me hard, as in just three months I followed a truck loaded with my possessions back home.

Another old friend and brother, Lesang Maswabi, had gotten me a brand new house in Block 6.

Mokgosi Media Holdings was birthed, and I became the founding editor.

A challenging but exciting time, now pushing and promoting Setswana language to a nation which had known nothing but commercial English newspapers.

While Mokgosi was received with open arms, we could not survive solely on advertising.

The corporate world did not easily warm up to a vernacular publication, so 5 years later, the newspaper folded.

What happened next?

From there, the late Beata Kasale called me over to The Voice, which I edited for less than three years, and left.

I was now facing an autoimmune condition, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and could not continue with hectic schedules.

I temporarily retired at 42.

But the media bug hit, and I was back, now as Managing Editor at The Gazette.

I could not, however, manage, as by that time, 2012, my mother passed away.

My marriage was on the rocks.

But God being the ever-present Father, saw me through.

Now happily divorced and with my supportive family, I was able to rise and return to activism, a passion which drives my life.

So, what keeps you busy these days?

Over the past 3 years, I’ve been working on different projects, within the civil society.

My focus is on two areas: the media and gender.

I’ve been part of an exciting and empowerment project, the Gender Links’ Women Political Participation (WPP), funded by the International IDEA and running in 8 countries in Africa; we hope to capacitate women politicians, to ensure greater representation of women in all spheres of politics.

And in terms of media work, what are you up to?

On the media end, I have been working with WAN-INFRA Women In News program as a Coach and Trainer.

The programme is for different countries in Africa and South East Asia.

Last year, I was drafted in the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Botswana chapter), to help revive the organisation.

The chapter, will from today (May 3rd) be hosting the regional World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), in collaboration with UNESCO and MISA regional office in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Talking of WPFD theme, ‘The Importance of Journalism and Freedom of Expression in the Context of Current Environmental Crisis’. Please unpack this for our readers.

According to UNESCO, this year’s theme underscores the urgent need to address the threats posed by climate change, biodiversity loss, and air pollution to sustainable development.

Furthermore, it emphasises the crucial role of combating disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms, as well as strengthening democratic principles.

In alignment with this overarching theme, this year’s WPFD aims to spotlight the vital role of journalism and freedom of expression amidst the global environmental crisis.

Lastly, what advice would you give to up and coming female journos, gender and media activists?

Journalism is a calling.

This is one profession that throws you in the public domain.

But don’t expect the material riches to follow your name.

Like a calling, you serve with passion.

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