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Of Scribes and Side Hustles

Greg Kelebonye
The media industry, as with many other sectors of the economy, has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when Botswana’s COVID-19 cases were first reported in March of last year, and business foundations started shaking, the media industry was already deep on its knees.

To establish just how much the media has been affected by the pandemic, the Women In News (WIN) programme of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-INFRA) undertook a survey in April 2020, with the second one underway. The WIN survey, carried out in sub-Saharan countries of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia and Tanzania as well as Vietnam, focused on the economic impact on women in the media.

The findings were that 65% of women journalists were adversely affected. Of these, at least 58% had either lost their jobs or had reduced income. The remaining 35% found themselves doing double duties, most operating from home with no basic facilities such as computers and Wi-Fi. Where they did, data was too expensive. Freelancers were frozen out. For Botswana private media, the COVID-19 pandemic just added to the woes of the financially struggling industry. The media workers were already being laid off, especially in the print media experiencing high printing costs and dropping advertising due to the shrinking economy.

To survive the onslaught, some journalists took on side hustles.

When Ruth Kedikilwe, the former Lifestyle editor of The Sunday Standard was made redundant in 2019, having spent seven of the 15 years of her professional life with the broadsheet, she, opened a media consultancy business. Together with a friend and another retrenched colleague, business reporter Patience Radisoeng, Kedikilwe started an advocacy media company, Relay Media Communications.

The company focused on human rights, with special emphasis on sexual reproductive health and rights, as well as mental wellness. With a rich pool of networks outside the country, the driver, Kedikilwe got the company affiliated to a regional institution dealing with gender and justice. Through this network, Relay was contracted to provide training for media workers and communicators in the SADC region. As the duo got their passports ready and visas secured, COVID-19 hit. “Everything stopped. All the training programmes were cancelled,” says Kedikilwe.

But they would not easily give in. They approached big businesses to do paid write-ups for publication in the newspapers. “Still the money was not coming in since everything was going into fighting COVID,” explains Kedikilwe.

As the business was at its infancy stage when everything came to a screeching halt, there was no money to continue operating.

“It was time for Plan B,” Kedikilwe says.

The scribes packed their bags and headed to their home villages, Radisoeng to Serowe and Kedikilwe to Sefophe.

Although still new in the media industry, with just five years under her belt, Radisoeng, set aside the pen, picked the ‘Mozimbabwe’ and hit the streets. “As a woman of steel, I started buying second-hand clothing bales from Zambia and knocked on doors.” Radisoeng is months into the business but has decided to focus on selling branded sport shirts. “The money is not much, but I put food on the table.”

The more experienced Kedikilwe opened a distribution business, buying and selling agricultural produce and packaged chickens. She hit the social media space, pushing the chicken ‘insides’ – gizzards, necks, livers and feet. With her savings, she bought a food truck.  Now Kedikilwe, the well-travelled, award-winning scribe, wakes up at 5am, prepares food and by 9am, is out on the streets of Gaborone, feeding those still fortunate to have jobs to go to. After the lunch rush, she heads home, collects the packaged products and hits the streets to deliver the orders. The deliveries usually start at 3pm until 7pm. In return, after home chores, she lights the computer to write stories to sell for publication. On a normal day, Kedikilwe says she only goes to bed at 12 midnight.

“A woman has to do what

a woman has to do,” she says, advising those still employed to find whatever side odd jobs to augment their salaries.

Phemelo Maribeng, a reporter with The Guardian newspaper, is doing exactly that. She says COVID-19 woke her to the fact that nothing is certain. “The job I wake up to every day can be gone tomorrow,” she says. It was during the April 2020 lockdown that she started her first side hustle. She bought bell peppers from the farmers and did house-to-house deliveries.

But home baking is what she took to in earnest. The young mother says growing up, she was always helping her grandmother knead and bake bread. It was during that first lockdown, working from home, that she ignited the passion for baking, and developed the entrepreneurship spirit.

But for a spiritual Maribeng, kneading the dough and watching the bread rise in the oven, is meditation. “When I knead, I am most at peace as I sing and pray. It is my stress reliever.”

But the process of getting the bread out to a growing clientele can be exhausting and time-consuming. Maribeng has ambitions to grow the baking business and maybe one day open a bakery.  “In the meantime, I need to invest in small machinery and utensils to push production.” 

Maribeng advises colleagues to take on any side hustle noting that traditional media is dying and jobs are getting scarce. “COVID e tlhakatlhakantse dilo, but it has also taught us never to depend on one salary. Use whatever talent you have to earn an extra income because you do not know what the future has in store.”

One who never had to rely on one salary is veteran journalist and communications specialist, Greg Kelebonye.  To him, the challenging period of the pandemic is just an opportune time to break into new ventures. With over two decades of experience in government, corporate and private media, Kelebonye was never one to be without a side hustle, employed or not. Kelebonye has been a street hawker of sorts. He has sold street food, wood, vegetables, clothes, sweets and operated a restaurant.  It is these side odd jobs that have set Kelebonye for commercial farming operations,

He recalls that when he lost his well-paying job as communications manager at BCL in Selebi-Phikwe, he returned to base in Gaborone and started gathering and selling wood.

He was shocked that side hustle, something he thought was just to while away the time waiting for another full-time job opportunity, could earn him around P40,000 a week. In fact, it was that side hustle that financed his new ventures. The wood selling business earned him enough money to buy property around Gaborone. By the time he was engaged as News Editor at Dikgang Publishing Company, Kelebonye had bought a 40-hectare farm just outside Thamaga, where he operates small stock commercial farming. He bought a smaller farm in Mogonye for horticulture, which has proven to be a good income stream.

The side hustle meant he not only provides for his family, sets a path for entrepreneurship, but also employs others. With his hectic work schedule at the Ombudsman’s, Kelebonye has engaged an old friend and colleague, Kebofhe Mathe to manage his agricultural operations. “Mathe is the engine,” he says, noting that all these that he has today, would not have been possible with just one cheque at the end of the month. “If you have the ambition to make it big in life, you have to find and use every opportunity availed.”

The ‘veteran’ hustler is not done. He sees a business opportunity in metal scraps. He also plans to buy cans and bottles from the card pulling hustlers and sell them to the factories. “I want to act as a middle person. There could be money there.”


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