Mmegi Online :: Pat the Editor
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Monday 10 December 2018, 15:12 pm.
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Pat the Editor

Patrick van Rensburg was the man who first got me engaged in local media, beginning in 1985, by inviting me to become an occasional news and feature writer for Mmegi.
By Jeff Ramsay Fri 23 Jun 2017, 06:00 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Pat the Editor








This grew out of our initial contacts when I was producing press releases on behalf of the Gaborone TV Owners Association, which was then seeking to move beyond pirate relays to establish what would become GBC TV.

Since its 1984 re-launch Mmegi has provided a nurturing environment for generations of individuals who like me began as stringers, feature and/or opinion writers, as well as full time journalists.

In this sense van Rensburg’s newspaper, like his schools and brigades, remained true to its original 1968 mission of serving as an instrument of skills development through production.

Those of us associated with Mmegi in the 1980s had the privilege of knowing van Rensburg as a hands on editor.  In this respect there are others, such as Methaetsile Leepile, who can testify from their greater depths of daily newsroom experience.  What I can say is that, having had the opportunity to interact with many news editors, both in and out of Botswana, over the years, there are none I would put above van Rensburg.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was never formally trained or mentored as a journalist (a career he had contemplated but not taken up in his youth) he was a natural who within a few short years cemented Mmegi’s reputation at home and abroad as a leading source of quality independent reporting, as well as perspectives, on Botswana.

The same characteristics that made van Rensburg a leading political activist and pioneer of alternative education served him well as an editor.  He combined a revolutionary passion for justice with a liberal sense of fairness. 

Asreflected in his remarkable soul bearing in the first part (‘A Traitor to Hatred’) of his 1962 book Guilty Land his brilliance as polemicist can be traced to

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his cultivation of a deep sense of shared humanity. Notwithstanding an occasional element of temper, eruptions of the zealous passion that animated his life, Patrick was able to work with and relate to people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

Under Van Rensburg, Mmegi became a platform for advocacy journalism as well as alternative views. But, every effort was made to separate opinion from fact.  I experienced this first hand when I was covering a South African Dialogue conference held in Gaborone, which brought together a wide range of prominent figures ranging from the then exiled ANC’s Director of Information, Thabo Mbeki to members of the Broederbond.

In my initial background article I noted, among other things, that the Dialogue’s institutional sponsor, the African America Institute (AAI) had in the past been associated with the CIA.  This fact was not presented as substance of the article, which was on balance positive about both the prospects of the Dialogue and AAI’s role as facilitator.

The US embassy was nonetheless outraged.  Pressure was placed on the Mmegi editor to both retract the reported CIA/AAI angle as well as censor further coverage of the event.  Patrick in turn asked me to bring my evidence of the CIA/AAI connection.

In that pre-internet era, I was initially a bit concerned.  While the historic AAI/CIA link was then common knowledge among informed people, I wondered if I could find sufficient documentation of the fact in Gaborone.  Fortunately an hour in UB Library allayed such fears, allowing me to type out a list of published sources to back up the claim.

Satisfied, van Rensburg stood by the story and my continued reporting.  I had nonetheless learned a basic lesson in securing one’s facts before publication.

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