ONLY a few parents encourage their children to pursue a career path in the entertainment industry as this is perceived an unrespectable direction in many African societies. This is despite the fact that there are many artistes who have dared to go against the tide and made it big.
The highly acclaimed Tsepo Tshola is a living example of the immense contribution made by artistes in shaping social change and influencing political transitions. Some of the young people working in the entertainment industry in Lesotho have realised the power of their creativity and are using their energies and talents to contribute towards discouraging young people from internalising a culture of hate and to help make Lesotho better.
In this interview, Tsitsi Matope (Lesotho Times: LT) speaks to 34-year-old Tlali Mapetla (TM), better known as Mr Maps, who recently travelled to the United States to participate in a “Journalism in the 21st Century” programme, about a wide range of issues.
LT: You have been working in the media, arts and entertainment sectors for many years, tell us about your unique journey?
TM: I am one of those lucky people who at a tender age knew exactly what they wanted to spend their lives doing but was discouraged by the expectations of the society that I grew-up in. The society wanted me to follow a certain path that they respected. I am also one of the few people who quickly realised that I was lost while I was studying Law at Witwatersrand University in South Africa and subsequently quit to follow my passion.
I have always loved broadcasting, music and used to host some shows while doing my high school at Christian Brothers College in South Africa. One of my English teachers discovered I had talent and encouraged me to consider working in the media space. Coming from Lesotho, which is also the situation in many African countries, parents are always trying to secure what they view as a better future for their children and encourage you to pursue studies in areas they are familiar with. That is why after high school, I went to study Law at Wits but dropped-out after my second year. I can rightly say my passion took over because I found myself in the midst of what I had always wanted to do.
Around me then were some of the big names in the entertainment industry, which made it difficult for me to resist the urge to join the entertainment sector. After finding myself, I worked for DOP FM at the National University of Lesotho campus from 2005 to 2006 before joining Ultimate FM Radio in 2007. It was while working at Ultimate FM that I realised that I needed to take myself seriously and specialise in an area that would make me relevant in the media and entertainment space. My parents supported the idea and gave their blessings for me to study Sound Engineering in South Africa at the South African Broadcasting Corporation for three years.
LT: After your graduation, you obviously had some expectations. Did you find the environment ready for the kind of skills you had acquired?
TM: Lesotho’s electronic media space has a long way to go in terms of becoming organised and professional in the manner it manages information and everything else that complements the processes. The media, and radio in particular, is very powerful and demands journalists who are highly professional and responsible. When I returned home I decided to create a space to fully utilise all the skills that I had acquired. I realised that we had many corporates in the country but had no radio adverts that were produced professionally. I saw a gap and decided to partner with my childhood friend and formed a company called BackDoor Media before we started producing professional radio adverts.
When the scope of my work widened, I then created Emotiv Public Relations Network because I realised that there was more we could do to further promote interaction and meet the needs that existed in the corporates. While I was doing the public relations work, I also worked as a content producer and presenter with various radio stations such as MXXL and currently, GrindNation Radio. The work allowed me to multi-task and explore other opportunities within the sector, including doing a lot of podcasting to widen coverage beyond Lesotho.
LT: Your excellence in radio broadcasting has inspired a lot of people, including those who listen to your youth development programmes. Tell us how you got to be on the US Journalism 21st Century programme and how has that changed the way you broadcast your programmes?
TM: I was humbled when the US Embassy here in Lesotho approached me last year and said they wanted me to be part of a journalism programme, which basically brought together professional journalists from 15 African countries. The purpose of the programme was for the participants to interrogate the journalism trajectory in the 21st century. Early this year, I travelled to the US and found myself working among qualified and serious print and electronic journalists. During the discussions I realised that I needed to include some approaches discussed to my podcasts and radio programmes to increase impact on my targeted audiences.
As young broadcasters, at times we do not realise the power and the influence that we have on others. In Lesotho there is a lot we can do to transform the politics and socio-economic situation, if only we can work professionally and have the best interests of our country at heart.
The US programme led me to appreciate my country more because I met journalists from politically unstable countries that have known little peace. All they want to do is to use their work to promote peace building and encourage young people to do more for their countries. In Lesotho we are a homogenous society in the sense that we share the same type of cultural values, language, ethnicity and religious system.
Therefore, there is absolutely no reason why we should not co-exist or be divided. Positive change through the media is possible because we are such a small nation, which means campaigns on peace building and unity can spread faster here than in big countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.
I realised that as broadcasters, there is a lot we can do to create the Lesotho we want. After visiting one high school that teaches journalism in Florida, I realised just how much of a negative society we have become. We seem to have developed interest in negatively criticising each other instead of helping each other to grow and become better people.
Our biggest challenge, if you look at how we analyse news through radio broadcasts reflects that we do not do enough research before the interviews and simply depend on interviewees to give the information they wish to relay; fact or fake. The situation should actually be that we should have knowledge for us to be able to interrogate some claims and in some cases, make an effort to balance the content, in addition to educating people and telling the truth. I think in Africa responsible Journalism has become more important now than before because of the many conflicts we are seeing emerging in many forms.
In the midst of all these challenges, people deserve correct information for their empowerment and for decision making. The social media platform cannot always be a credible source of factual information considering its unregulated nature but I strongly believe that as a progressive nation we need not abuse the platform. We need to use such platforms with far reaching effects to tell our stories reflecting our resilience as a people and our quest for democracy and good governance.
When I was in America, I realised how many people were hungry to hear our stories. There is a lot we can share to attract the much-needed foreign investment. One of the families that hosted me was only interested in talking about my country and nothing more because of our rich and intriguing history, which we do not appreciate and really celebrate. When I was just 24 years old, I created a brand called “Blankets and Blink” where I was trying to bridge the gap between our cultural tradition and the modern times.
Years later Louis Vutton is putting blankets as part of their products, not that I foresaw it but I launched the brand because I understood how special we are as Basotho.
One of the unique stories about Lesotho is how resilient we are in the sense that although we have a high rate of unemployment, that has influenced a wave of entrepreneurship. We have many young people who have realised how senseless it is to keep applying for jobs that never come. They are now doing amazing projects on their own.
LT: What challenges do you see in the development of young people in Lesotho, you spoke of the need to dwell on positive interactions for development, where are you seeing some gaps and what advice can you give to change that negativity?
TM: A lot has to do with mentorship. Lesotho is one of the countries that had well educated people much earlier in the Southern Africa region. The challenge is that the old guard did not do enough to pass the right messages to young people. They took long to groom and to create space large enough to accommodate many young people in strategic positions yet we are the future of this country. The few who were lucky to have the orientation and life skills are the ones who should now motivate fellow young people through various initiatives. We need role models and I believe those young people who can support and still have hope that we can rise again should step-up to the occasion and become change-agents.
Secondly, we really need to educate ourselves as young people. As a society, we generalise issues too much and that is very dangerous. We do not read enough and that is why we can’t even hold politicians accountable. The presence of some young people in positions of power is also not adding much value to the quality of the politics of our country. We need to sell the positivity and hope and realise who we are and the power that we have in a complicated world.
GrindNation is a creative co-working space that encourages creativity as well as mentorship by hosting various talks with industry leaders.
Importantly, as a people, we need to respect social media and other media platforms and stop being used by some irresponsible politicians to incite hate and report lies and some half-truths. On the other hand, and importantly, the government should respect the media and stop contaminating the space. In the spirit of reforms, I believe the regulation of the media should be a priority area to ensure we have only responsible people disseminating responsible and balanced information.