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The plight of women journalists



MASERU – On Tuesday as the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day, it was the same old bigotry and misery for female journalists in Lesotho.
Who are we kidding? There is no media freedom in this country.

Just on Sunday, a Matchday newspaper reporter, Reitumetse Mabaleha, was insulted, threatened and nearly assaulted by a football player for simply doing her job while covering a Nedbank 8 tie between Qacha’s Nek LMPS and Limkokwing University at Bambatha Tšita Sport Arena.

According to Mabaleha, the attack happened after a Qacha LMPS player was shown a red card which sparked a violent commotion between the sides’ technical teams and officials.
As Mabaleha was taking pictures of the scene, she was approached by a bench player who hurled vulgar insults at her and threatened to beat her up.

This thug would have reached her if it were not for officials and other people present who quickly stepped in to stop the red-eyed hoodlum who was clenching his fists in rage.
Mabaleha recounted her traumatic experience in a telephonic interview with thepost on Tuesday. As Mabaleha spoke on the phone, it was clear she was still shaken by the ordeal.

“I was taking pictures when I was approached (nearly attacked) by a player from the (Qacha’s Nek LMPS) bench, and he was insulting me (and shouting) ‘don’t take pictures of me.’ He was stopped before he could reach me,” Mabaleha said.

“Another gentleman who was behind the bench also tried attacking me and said they are not scared because the local media is hungry. He also was stopped. (A-Division Management Committee) president Ntate (Tšeliso) Ramatla was there, he got involved and tried to stop it,” she added.

The safety of women in sports is not guaranteed and the scourge is not just in the media, it is a broader social issue. The message women get from men at sports arenas is that they are not welcome. Sexism and harassment are intolerable and the country’s gender-based violence (GBV) statistics are through the roof.

Women are the main victims. Last month, during the draw of the Nedbank 8, the A-Division Management Committee (ADMACO) unveiled their new anti-GBV campaign. They announced they were going to use footballers to transmit their message.

At the time, we highlighted the hypocrisy of using football players, some of whom are well-known abusers, to push such an important topic and it did not take long for the players to spit their responsibility right back at ADMACO.

ADMACO, through its spokesperson Mothusi Letsie, has since called and apologised to Mabaleha. The first division body said they are still studying the incident and will decide what disciplinary measures to take. However, ADMACO said that does not stop Mabaleha from taking action against the player. Qacha’s Nek LMPS only called Mabaleha last night to apologise.

She is undecided on what to do, not because she does not know what to do, but because she is scared.
The player that attacked Mabaleha is likely a police officer. Although that has not yet been confirmed, if it is the case, then it could threaten her safety even at home.

It probably threatens mine, too.
It is shocking that every day women are fighting for their right to be equal with men. Mabaleha was not the only one taking photos on Sunday, she had male colleagues doing the same thing.

The Qacha’s Nek LMPS player picked on her based on the fact that she is a woman and that is what abusers do. They pick their victims based on their perceived weakness.

After the commotion settled down, the Qacha’s Nek LMPS versus Limkokwing University tie continued to an end, but it was too much for Mabaleha. She reckons if the looks she received could kill, she would not be alive. She left in the middle of the game feeling unsafe and went all the way to Maputsoe to cover the Vodacom Premier League game between Bantu and Lioli.

The scary part is that this is not an isolated incident, it is just one of many ordeals female reporters are subjected to everyday. It is tiring.

Women are fighting for their right to be safe at football grounds. Over the last seven years that I have been covering sports, I have endured all forms of abuse. Although none has been physical, I have been on the receiving end of discrimination and sexual intimidation from players and coaches because I am a woman. Having a different opinion from a man is enough for them to make your life a nightmare. We are constantly uncomfortable.

The silence from men about this shame is sickening. For example, only Tebalo Lebajoa of Radio Lesotho has posted publicly about Sunday’s incident. He has since deleted his Facebook post and the comments from men that were annoyed that a player was receiving a dressing down in public made me want to puke.

They were upset the incident has become a “public spectacle”, one even suggested the matter should be dealt with in private and the player must be counselled and protected. What about Mabaleha, the victim?

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a player would be comfortable threatening a woman reporter. Football in this country harbours and protects criminals. They assault referees whenever they do not agree with their decisions.

Mabaleha said she felt belittled and would like to see some sort of punishment handed to the player.
I want to be clear, not all men in sports are disgusting pigs.

There are many players, coaches, officials, executives and fans who do not deserve to be painted with the same brush as these bad apples, but the bad give the good a bad rep, if the good ones do not speak up more.

On a daily basis I interact with different people in sports from football to athletics. I can fill this whole page writing about the professionalism and respect I receive whether I am calling the Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) or clubs.
Women are not asking to be mollycoddled, we are just asking for fair and equal treatment. Please kick thugs out of the game.

Tlalane Phahla

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