About a month or so ago, South African tabloids ran amok and social media went on high gear after news broke that gospel artist, S'fiso Ncwane, had bought his pastor a R1,900,000.00 Mercedes Benz GL63 AMG.
The vitriolic commentaries that followed crucifying S'fiso were not entirely unexpected, for there is an unfortunate belief system or tradition in these parts of the world, that believes that pastors ought to be not too far removed from paupers. I don't know who told people that poverty is a badge of piety and that to epitomize true piety; preachers must not enjoy the finer things in life. Of course, there were some who commended S'fiso's high generosity. But they were a minority compared to those who suddenly discovered their moral clout and became instant theologians and social commentators.
It was amusing at times. But there was nothing funny about the amount of ignorance spewed. But that wasn't all. Just when it appeared as if the story was losing traction, news again reached tabloid desks that S'fiso's pensioner mother had an empty fridge at home! I couldn't help but chuckle. This is Africa. Almost every eye reading this column knows very well the reality of an occasional empty fridge. An empty fridge is no more a sign of poverty than a full fridge is a sign of prosperity.
But some mischief makers decided that it was rank hypocrisy for S'fiso to be buying his pastor an AMG while his mother's fridge was empty. Of course, in simplistic terms, one can understand the argument. But the problem is the spirit with which it is presented. I, for one, know very well that as believers we ought to take care of our families, including our parents. Scripture commands it. It is un-Christian and ungodly to neglect family. But an empty fridge is no evidence enough that S'fiso was neglecting his mother. That's mere sensationalism designed to boost sales. Was S'fiso wrong to buy his pastor a car costing nearly R2 million? That's for you to decide.
But don't tie your argument to his mother's empty fridge. The two are totally unrelated cases. Was it too extravagant a gesture? Of course, some will argue themselves blue and black saying it was. But I'll tell you something: it's not that these people necessarily think it was extravagant. No. Their problem is that it was given to a pastor. And there we have it. You see, people have a problem with pastors living as well as they are, or even better than they are.
People generally feel better about themselves and their religion when their clergy are beneath them in terms of standard of living. It's ok for a doctor to drive a Porsche. It's ok for a lawyer to drive a Range Rover. It's ok for a businessman to drive a Ferrari. But God forbid a pastor should drive a Mercedes Benz! Pray tell, is what a pastor doing of any less importance than the cited examples? Pastors often live like doctors, working odd hours and expected to do it all with a smile but with no obvious tangible reward. Contrary to misinformed opinion, pastors don't only clock a few hours per week on a Sunday. Who officiates a wedding? Pastor. Who conducts a funeral? Pastor. Who counsels couples before marriage and when their marriage is on the rocks? Pastor. Who's expected to visit the sick and pray for them at home and at the hospital? Pastor. Who's expected to leave his wife and kids in bed in the dead of the night to respond in prayer or even a visit to a troubled soul? Pastor. The list is endless. And yet, should such a man receive a material benefit or symbol of luxury, hypocrites will cry a river! Many congregations have seen spiritual pain, hurt and wounds.
Pastors and wives are often caught in the middle of “hand-to-hand” combat. They are unable to leave the field of battle, for it follows them everywhere. Families have broken up over doctrines. Friendships have ended because of grace. There have been ugly scenes of hostility and animosity, with emotions fractured and nerves frayed. Walking in the warfare have been pastors and their spouses, attempting to comfort, soothe, encourage, uplift, direct and gently admonish. It is fitting that we honor Christian soldiers who displayed courage under fire.
A big “Thank you” to all men and women of God, especially our pastors and their spouses who have endured criticism because of the cross of Christ is always in order. We ought to always salute the bravery, humility, love and dedication of the men and women who stand for Jesus Christ in the face of opposition, including opposition from us their audience at times. And, we should not apologize for honoring them and lavishing them with gifts whenever we can. They more than deserve it. Unfortunately, when expressions like S'fiso's become public knowledge, suddenly people care about the poor! Suddenly people say he should have bought a cheaper car and paid for poor children's uniform or school fees. Suddenly people say he should have built an orphanage. And so on and so forth. Take a seat! Buying a pastor an AMG doesn't end the world. Nor does not buying it make the world a better place. Better yet, next time you want to buy yourselves a nice car, watch, house, etc, think about the poor.
Show me the kids you've clothed. Show me the orphans you've fed. Why should the pastor's comfort be sacrificed for the common good? Let's start with the man in the mirror. Some mischievous folks got even cheekier and said that the car was actually bought on credit and was still effectively owned by the bank. I ask, so what? I dare say upwards of 95% of the eyes that are reading this that own a house or a car is through credit. We are paying notes and bonds on the cars and houses we "own." The issue is not so much whether you can afford the car. The main issue is whether you can afford the loan repayment. And clearly the bank had confidence in S'fiso's ability to do so. The credit system is not sinful.
If it is, most of us are in trouble because we are servicing some kind of debt in our lives. The Bible acknowledges the credit system and the principle of interest. S'fiso, like the rest of us, took advantage of this system. And he duly got the car for his man of God. It is a gesture not just of generosity but of honor. The problem with most Christians and non-Christians today is that they don't understand honor. S'fiso was not paying for anything.
He was expressing gratitude and honor to a man he highly esteems. And what you give shows the level of honor you place upon the recipient. Some time ago, the nation was bemused and some outraged when the then President Festus Mogae declined a donkey given to him as a present by a resident of Mabutsane. I don't know the full details, but I would think a donkey to him did not reflect a proper honoring of a man of his stature. A horse would have been a different story. You will agree with me that had S'fiso bought the pastor a Mazda, we would never have known about it. T
he work of pastors is often compared to that of shepherds. Shepherds lead, prod, take care of, watch out for, nurture, rescue and direct the sheep. As shepherds, we work under the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). A shepherd’s work can be hazardous and grueling. The powerful story of rescue and salvation in Luke 15, of leaving the ninety nine to find the one who is lost, motivates all men and women of God. But we must always remember to give thanks and appreciation to those who sacrificially give of their lives so that others might be saved. “Pits” are an oft-used metaphor in the Bible. Salvation is often pictured, in both the Old and New Testaments, as rescue from a pit.
The land of the Bible was filled with natural and man-made pits, some of which were used as cisterns to capture rainwater. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers. Daniel was placed in a pit with a den of lions. Jeremiah found himself in a cistern and narrowly escaped death in a muddy mire. There are many present-day pits into which the people of God may fall. There are the pits of drunkenness and drug addiction. There are pits of unemployment, illness and disease. There are pits of immorality, of anger and hatred, of lying, deception and greed.
There are pits of self-pity and victimhood. There are pits of depression, despair and discouragement. When we are asked how we are doing, many of us have described our condition as being “in the pits.” God lifts us out of those pits. God saves us. Jesus walks among us, as our Shepherd, to lift us and carry us away from the pits into which we fall. Pastors and ministers constantly find themselves ministering around the edges of pits into which the people of God have fallen. We need to thank those who courageously and self-sacrificially give of themselves that we might be pointed to the One who can lift us out of the pit. And if the expression of our thanksgiving is in the form of a R2 million Mercedes Benz GL63 AMG, so be it! I'm actually waiting for my Bentley. By the way, my mother's fridge is empty.
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org