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THE NEWSMAKER

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ACHIEVER: Clara Olsen

72 years old and still going strong to make sure Batswana are kept informed

A nurse, journalist, publisher, member of Parliament, wife, mother, grandmother all describe Mme Mma Clara Olsen, a pathfinder and a pioneer who opened the gates of journalism and politics for Botswana women.

Among her products is The Voice Publisher, Beata Kasale who published her first article in the Botswana Gazette in 1986 and thereafter several articles in a magazine called the Botswana Business Month which was also run by News Company, the publishers of the Gazette and Lapologa.

But there is no basking in the glory of her success for Mma Olsen. Due to celebrate her 72nd birthday this year, she is still up on her feet and making sure she meets her weekly deadline like anyone working in the newsroom of a weekly newspaper.

Mma Olsen is the owner – though she prefers to be referred to as the major shareholder – of News Company, which besides the two publications has also added to its stable a Special Projects division that deals with television and video production.

IN YESTERYEARS: Mma Olsen in her hey days

Having been a nurse, a journalist, an employee of a non-governmental organization and a politician, Mma Olsen could not resist going back to her ‘first love’, the media when an offer came up to buy shares in The Gazette. By snapping up the offer in 1987, she thus became the first woman to own a newspaper in the country.

Last weekend, The Voice team visited the old by age but very young at heart Mma Olsen at her beautiful and welcoming home in Tlokweng where she went down memory lane to the days when she hung her nurse’s uniform to a life of running after scoops and working against deadline.

Born in Tlokweng and raised in South Africa, Mma Olsen grew up during the era where there were only two professions for girls with no university degrees, nursing and teaching. She thus chose the former as she trained as a nurse but did not last long in taking care of the sick as that was not her.

“My heart and soul were with writing so when an opportunity arose for me to join the newsroom I did not think twice,’’ she said.

She then joined a publication, the Rand Daily Mail and later moved to the World, which is the current Sowetan, a daily newspaper in South Africa. There she worked for two years doing almost everything that has to be done in a publication, in other words she was an all rounder, a thing which was later to become a great advantage in her running her own paper.

However her stay at the South African media was also short-lived as her work and residence permit expired forcing her to pack up and come back home.

HAPPY FAMILY: Mr and Mrs Olsen with son Shike (in white) and relatives

Upon arrival in the country she joined the department of Information and Broadcasting, writing for the Daily News and Kutlwano. Ironically, although she loved writing she did not seem to last very long in the newsrooms because two years after joining the department of Information and Broadcasting she had to quit, joining her husband who was moving to the United Kingdom to further his studies.

The irony of it all is that though she did not last in the newsrooms as an employee, little did she know that she was yet to spend the better part of her life running her own media house.

Having spent some time in the UK where she also had a chance to work for Amnesty International, she came back to Botswana in 1975. She then joined the Botswana Democratic Party as an information officer, a move that later opened bigger doors for her in politics as in 1984 she was appointed a Specially Elected Member of Parliament.

While in politics she clashed with her colleagues on a number of issues especially the Citizenship Bill which intended to deprive children born of foreign fathers and Batswana mothers their right to be Botswana citizenship.

“I collaborated with women at the University of Botswana who were concerned with women’s rights and who founded Emang Basadi. This did not go down well with my colleagues in politics as I was openly fighting for women’s rights and in the process clashing with decision makers. While all this was happening the offer to buy shares in The Gazette came and I took it up.

“The urge to buy shares was also because there were few mediums in the country to disseminate information and yet there was a lot that Batswana needed to know and thus had to fill in that gap,’’ she said.

And today, though it’s hard for her to admit, the small paper in which she bought shares from a Malawian national way back in 1987 and now employs about 50 people has grown to be a reputable newspaper that churns out hard hitting stories week in, week out, much to the enjoyment of its readers and scorn from those exposed.

“I am happy with our achievements at the News Company but this does not mean that we can fold our hands and relax, the hard work continues especially in our other publication, Lapologa which is struggling to make a profit, but we will get there,’’ she says with a smile.

Though she is not a full time writer, she is still hands on the day to day running of The Gazette to make sure deadlines are met with well written and balanced stories ready for print.

“There was a time when I wanted to retire because running a business is very tough but the board turned me down and besides now I think retiring is an old fashioned thing, so I will keep on going.”

And judging by her fitness Mma Olsen, who is a mother of three and a grandmother will for some years continue making sure that Batswana get their weekly dose of The Gazette stories.