Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Student Journalists Inspired by Mahlatse Gallens

Puleng Sekabate

On Friday, 19 February 2009, SABC Senior Specialist reporter Mahlatse Gallens was a guest lecture at the Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Journalism in Soshanguve North.

Gallens was fresh from covering the earthquake destruction which left around 200 thousand people dead in the Caribbean island of Haiti.

Students at the campus were surprised by her humble nature as she shared her inspiring words with them. She explained how traumatic situations like the one in Haiti can be for a young reporter and stressed the need for counseling when a journalist returns home.

“One needs to get back to normal. Live your normal life, when coming back from a story,” Gallens explained.

Gallens was based in the Democratic Republic of Congo for three years where she covered the conflict in the North Kivu region of the country. She explained how difficult it was to get started in the country where they spoke French as she couldn’t speak the language at all when she arrived. The conflict in the country is still based on ethnicity between the Tutsis and the Hutus. The conflict between the two groups led to the genocide that resulted in the death of 800 thousand people in Rwanda in 1994.

She further explained how different journalism is treated in the country. “In the DRC journalists get paid to cover a press conference. They thought because I am a foreign journalist I would have to get foreign rates.”

After clarifying to the country’s authorities that it would be unethical for her to accept any fee for attending press conferences she started getting more requests to be there when they took place.

She says she would often face ethical questions as she came across child soldiers in some of the regions she has covered. The same happened recently in Haiti as people kept on asking her for food and all she has in her bag was a snack and a bottle of water.

“There was no water and that water could have started a conflict,” she says.

She says if she gave something to one person another would have fought that person for it as they were all equally desperate.

“Don’t be a hero, because no story is worth your life.”

Her rich experiences as a journalist widened the minds of the students who have chosen the same career.

First year journalism student Pearl Nicodemus said Gallens experiences increased her passion for journalism. “It was very enlightening to hear about journalism in the art, it was a breath of fresh air. It also made me realise that journalism in art is an era yet to be explored.”
“The talk with Mahlatse Gallens was an insight into the journalism world, giving me a way to visualise how it is to be a woman in the journalism world,” explained another student Rethabile Mabula.

“It has been a pleasure having a motivator such as Mahlatse Gallens. Basically it has enlightened me as an individual that being a journalist is not about the fame and spotlight. It takes dedication and passion at large,” explained student, Sibongile Mahlada.

Tebogo Mpawu said he was motivated by the lecture, “The talk made me more eager and passionate about the field. I am looking forward to the real co-operate world as she has motivated us and I am also looking forward to being the real journalist.”

Gallens experiences as a conflict reporter made Tlholo Tseolo want to be a journalist even more now, “With regards to objectivity in her experience from Congo and Haiti and how she handled herself as a journalist.”

It’s clear that all students thoroughly enjoyed this lecture. Gallens says she is back at the SABC and is part of a team that is trying to form an investigative desk. “I don’t want to cover a protest march. I want to cover the story behind the protest march,” she said.

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