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Reference Guide for reporting on LGBTI issues launched in South Africa

Joe Brown



IN AGREEMENT: Country advocacy representatives from Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe sharing experieces on media reports related to LGBTIQ+ people

A reference guide for media practitioners and news outlets was launched in Johannesburg, South Africa this Tuesday, intended to assist journalists and editors create media content that accurately represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people.

This follows months of research and study into how mainstream media in five Southern African countries of Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Namibia have been presenting stories on LGBTIQ+ issues.

The 24-page guide produced and published by Iranti, a South Africa-based LGBTIQ+ advocacy organisation, covers a range of topics that include the use of offensive and hateful language in reporting, tips for interviews as well as a glossary of LGBTQI+ specific terms that have on numerous occasions been seen to confuse journalists.

The LGBTIQ+ activists have over time decried the victimisation they suffer because of the language used by the media when reporting on their issues; and at the launch of the reference guide, they reiterated their misgivings on the perceptions formed by the twisted media reports, which eventually lead to how they end up being treated by the broader society.

Thus the Executive Director of Iranti Jabulani Pereira cautioned against the rampant sensationalist reporting that has the potential to increase marginalisation, violence and general discrimination against the LGBTIQ+ community. Conversely, he said, inclusive media coverage coupled with reporting that is cautious, fair, accurate and respectful could inspire understanding and promote respect.

In finally coming up with the media reference guide, Iranti had partnered and worked with journalists and local advocacy organisations from the 5 countries – Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO); Lesbian, Intersex, Transgender, and Other Extensions (LITE) in Malawi; Wings to Transcend in Namibia; Intersex South Africa (ISSA), and Transgender Research, Education, Advocacy and Training (TREAT) in Zimbabwe – to create a tool intended to end the social stigmatization of individuals, the LGBTIQ+ community and the perpetuation of homophobia in these countries.

Also launched on the day – both these with the generous funding by Swedish Federation for LGBTIQ Rights (RFSL) – was the Safety, Dignity and Freedom (SDF) study report whose main aim is to challenge homophopic and anti-queer mindsets and to change harmful behaviour that targets LGBTIQ+ people, including violence, stigma and discrimination. RFSL’s Programmes Manager Katarina Stenkvist extolled the bravery and innovation of Iranti and further commended the media guide and SDF campaign project for mapping a new ground and setting the tone for new ways of telling the queer experiences.

The launch ceremony this Tuesday had brought together media representatives and advocacy personnel from the five countries who in concert agreed to the need to especially train editors on the appropriate ways of reporting on LGBTIQ+ communities. Editors and subeditors especially bore the brunt of the discontent from the queer community as reporters absolved themselves from what finally goes into the newspapers. “Most of the time we write stories in the proper language, only for editors to twist and sensationalise them for the sake of newspaper sales,” one of the attendant journalist told the launch panel discussion.

Local advocacy organisations were however partly fingered for the misrepresentation as their media training programmes had only been targeting junior reporters who do not have the final say on what goes into the paper. Thus each organisation was implored to come up with awareness and training campaigns that would this time target the editing personnel in order to help them appreciate what constitutes hate speech, offensive terminology and defamatory language.

“It is important for advocacy activists to engage with the publishing house, set up meetings with editors and sub editors and show them examples of bad and good pieces of stories on queer communities and why such stories can be harmful,” advised Carl Collison, an internationally-acclaimed journalist who has been hailed as a good template for how great LGBTIQ+ stories should be told. Collison was giving a keynote address at the launch and gave living examples of how inappropriate language has brought great harm to queer communities across Africa and beyond.

Such terms as ‘hermaphrodite’ were singled out as inappropriate, derogatory and promoting stigmatisation, with ‘intersex’ the more decent word to use for people classified as such.
Media personnel also learnt that it was actually offensive to use phrases such as “born female,” “born male,” “from man to woman,” “homosexual relationship” and headlines that sexualise everything about the LGBTIQ+ community.

Information on the appropriate terms and phrases to use is included in the media reference guide. LEGABIBO’s Media Advocacy and Communications Officer, Matlhogonolo Samsam acknowledged the need to step up their media campaign in Botswana to target editors as local newspapers have also been found wanting in the way they treat LGBTIQ+ stories, especially the headlines. “Sometimes the contents of the articles are fine, it is usually the headlines that are offensive as the aim is obviously to bait the reader,” she told The Midweek Sun on the sidelines of the media guide launch.

“It is my hope that the media houses in Botswana will engage with the media guide, and to also note that when they report on the LGBTIQ+ people and issues, they are talking about human beings and human rights in the first place. We are more than just lesbians, gays or bisexuals; we are people’s aunts, uncles, fathers and mothers. There so much to us than our sexuality and our gender identity. LEGABIBO is available at all times to help when the journalists need clarity on some issues,” Samsam added.

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BR train 0501/BD 540 would not have derailed on 10 December 2019 had necessary precautions been taken, Botswana Railways (BR) staff members told the ongoing commission of inquiry in Mahalapye.

They blame the fatal accident in which two BR employees were killed on a raft of lapses, indecisions and negligence on the part of BR management. BR Senior Traffic Controller Simon Matenje revealed that there is a WhatsApp group that discusses everything concerning the running of BR trains. He said meteorological services had posted a memo warning that there would be floods on 4th December and shared it on the WhatsApp group. “The contents of the memo and their implications were discussed,” said Matenje who revealed that the group comprises most of the senior personnel in the BR hierarchy.

He lamented that although read and discussed the contents of the memo were “not given due attention.” Above that, on 9th and 10th December many BR staff members using the south bound and north bound trains warned relevant authorities about the possibility of floods, said Matenje. He believes there was negligence of duty on the part of management because everybody was aware of the floods at Moreomabele and Palla Road. “The relevant office should have directed stoppage of the trains or the adoption of an appropriate speed limit. “The best that management did was to give warnings about the floods but fell short of prescribing a solution,” he said. Matenje, who was on leave, said that he communicated his concerns about the reports of flooding and possible solutions to no avail.

When asked who exactly had the authority to do that, Matenje explained that it was the Operation’s Manager. Matenje also decried the lapses in the organisation’s system. He said motor trollies are helpful when inspecting the railway line. “However, they have not featured for a long time,” said Matenje who feels that regular inspection of the rail is a very critical part of safety. He said BR has not held any safety workshops in a long time. Mompoloki Rutherford, a train driver also appearing before the commission conceded that trollies had not been used on the BR lines for a long time. He said some senior managers use the train to inspect the line instead of trollies. “There are only two seats in the cabin but, contrary to safety rules, sometimes they just join us in the cabin which is a breach of the safety rules,” said Rutherford. Dikabelo Nawa, a retired train driver noted that BR workers were a sad lot because of pressure always exerted on them by management.

“Drivers work under pressure. The line between Mafikeng and Plumtree is old and very bad but we were always pushed by management to arrive on time. “There is just too much pressure. I once lost time and that put me into a big problem.” He said. He is also unhappy with the undergrowth and hanging branches next to the line because they obstruct the view of the crew. He appealed to the panel to recommend the introduction of a training centre for BR staff.

Peter Mokokwe, a recently retired train driver also complained that the rail road is never inspected. In addition to that, he told the commission that, he witnessed water around Palla Road on 9th December at the same place where the derailment later took place. Mokokwe, who himself did not alert control room about the water because he had heard through radio communication that his colleagues had reported the situation to control room, is also of the view that the disaster could have been averted had the 501 crew been alerted of the water situation.

On the other hand, a train controller named Moses Sethomo says he never got the communique warning the drivers about the impending floods. “There was a clear breakdown of communication,” said Sethomo who revealed that very often, even BR assets are wrongly used. “For example, sometimes freight locomotives instead of passenger train locomotives are used to haul the passenger train and this is a safety concern,” he noted. The hearings are continuing this week. The rail services that were suspended have since been resumed.

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Youth lament slow pace towards ICPD commitments



Young people representing Botswana at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD25) in Nairobi, Kenya last week have expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which governments are moving towards achieving ICPD25 ideals.

Trevor Oahile, a youth advocate and student at the University of Botswana participated at the Nairobi Summit to highlight on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of men and boys.
Oahile hosts a radio show sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Don’t Get It Twisted on Yarona FM. The show deals with issues that affect boys and men. Oahile participated in a panel discussion at the Summit on the involvement of men and boys in accelerating the ICPD promise.

He is of the view that countries needs to work together to end violence that is perpetuated by harmful gender norms that are antagonistic to progress towards the ideals of the ICPD agenda. “Botswana government and private sector are still challenged to invest a lot of money into implementing their commitments,” Oahile said, adding that Comprehensive Sexual Education on the other hand has to be rolled out to every school in the country.

“We also acknowledge that it is important to avoid stereotypes that impact decisions that people make. Men and boys often avoid certain services because they are known to be for girls and women,” Oahile said. Millicent Sethaile was at the Summit as a youth ambassador from an organisation called Her Voice, which funds and offers grants to smaller organisations that advocate for SRHR in communities. In her view the summit was significant because it was an opportunity for countries including Botswana to make commitments to fulfill the unfinished business of the ICPD made 25 years ago.

“What struck me the most is that I realised that Botswana has a long way to go to achieve the commitments she set for herself.”Sethaile also observed that the four commitments including to strengthen access to family planning, the reduction of maternal deaths, reduction of Gender Based Violence, provision of quality, timely and disaggregated data are activities that were already in the pipeline and have been discussed before. “I believe we now have to come up with actionable items that we can work on so that we can effectively deal with current challenges.”
For 18 year old University student Michelle Simon, the Nairobi Summit was a reality check, an opportunity to reflect and map the way forward.

“I realised that there are so many challenges, especially in Africa concerning SRHR,” Simon said. She also realised that Botswana has a lot of catching up to do to implement the commitments of the ICPD. “I also realised that issues including youth in power were left out.” Botho Mahlunge on the other hand comes back from the Summit with a conclusion that there are a lot of predicaments that young people find themseles in across the African continent including GBV and teenage pregnancy.

Programmes need to be intensified to ensure implementation. Mahlunge is also of the view that there is minimum youth engagement on issues that affet them the most. “Young people are tired of always convening about the same issues. It’s time to see the outcomes of Summits and Conferences,” Mahlunge said. She advised the youth to also be willing to engage when the oppotunity avails itself and to take up programmes that have been set to help them. Mahlunge said that failure to educate our young people on sexuality “is the reason so many girls are getting pregnant and infected with HIV.”

She said the continued exclusion of young people in rural areas from sexual and reproductive health and rights discussion is also to blame for the prevailing state of affairs. “Young people in rural areas are completely vulnerable. They are so far removed from the little information and services available to young people in urban areas,” Mahlunge observed.

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