Up close and personal with Kefilwe Mokgaotsane
When you switch on the national broadcaster Btv between 6 pm and 7 pm, her face and voice is one you will likely meet.
Kefilwe Mokgaotsane is the lead presenter of the popular Covid-19 Botswana Response segment on Btv.
The 43-year-old Mogobone native is no stranger to the pressure of live television, having previously anchored the Budget Speech, President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Inauguration and Special Parliament programs just to mention a few.
Boasting over ten years experience with the national broadcaster, Mokgaotsane – known to her colleagues as ‘Mkhefana’ – has established herself as one of the country’s leading journalists.
In this interview with The Voice’s SHARON MATHALA, the mother-of-one takes a break from asking questions to answer them instead.
Q. Are you a journalism major graduate?
I studied in South Africa for the BA Honours in Media Communications and Culture, graduating in 2010.
But before that, I also did a certificate in Mass Communication with the African Institute for Journalism in Egypt.
Q. And you were part of the first group to pilot for Btv?
Yes. You know I had always wanted to do either journalism or law.
So when the opportunity arose back in 1998 I jumped on it.
We were the first group really to be engaged with Btv back in 1998.
There were initially about 24 of us and eventually the numbers grew to around 50.
I was the young cub reporter for about four years before I went to school.
Q. And upon graduation you returned to Btv?
(Laughing) Oh yes, I feel like I have been there all my life!
When I returned in 2010 I was immediately transferred to Phikwe region.
I was in Phikwe for about four years before relocating back to the city [Gaborone].
I reported just about everything during my days in Phikwe and I believe it moulded me into the journalist I am today.
When I returned back to the city in 2014 that is when I developed an interest in political reporting which is sort of what I have been doing since.
Q. Political reporting and the so-called ‘hard beats’ are traditionally the domain of male reporters. How have you been able to make your mark?
Well it is not easy. One of my mentors who really helped shape my career was Chris Bishop, early on.
He said to us that journalism is a calling.
This is a job you should be able to do even if it’s for free.
I look at young journalists now and I feel people want to get ahead quickly.
People want to be given big roles in the newsroom.
But women have to work extra hard because the men are a little guarded with those fields.
One also has to be very patient to get men to respect you, they will eventually see what you are capable of and not cut you out.
Q. You have worked under the leadership of the current President, Mokgweetsi Masisi as well as his predecessor, Ian Khama. How would you describe being a government journalist under the two?
Former President Khama did not do a lot of travelling but he did some, especially if it involved tourism.
So you would really get a sense that this is where his passion lies; he was more into humanitarian work and conservation.
He was not a politician!
I have only started travelling with President Masisi.
He is interesting because he is diverse.
He grasps issues from across the board and I always learn something new about him during these trips.
The one trip that stood out was the Vegas trip during the whole elephants saga.
Q. Tell us more about that.
Yoh! I was in the audience and I could literally feel my hairs stand out.
Goosebumps! You know that lady stood up for a protest, she was about to be thrown out when President Masisi asked for the security detail to let her go.
He wanted to take that moment to clear the air.
It was very emotional.
The thing is it was not even scripted.
He was there for the diamond conference but that became the highlight of the trip.
Q. In the past it has been argued that government journalists are restricted in what they can report. Recently, however, it seems there has been a slight easing of constraints in Botswana – would you say that is correct?
I would answer that to say there is renewed fire and energies.
Look, the truth is we are having new leadership, both in government and a new leader at DBS (Department of Broadcasting Services) with Rre Oshinga Tsiane.
You would know that Rre Tsiane was involved with the pilot Btv project and he is a journalist through and through.
So there is renewed energy, renewed inspirations.
He says to us ‘when it is all said and done we are journalists’.
If there are editorial policies that sort of guide us on how to tread, he always reminds us that at the end of the day we are journalists.
And so, to answer you, maybe that is why people would feel this way.
Q. How did the idea of a special program focusing on Covid-19 Botswana response come about?
It was just one of those ideas in the newsroom.
We had seen from December that there was this story developing in China.
We could see the disease was spreading and so we just brainstormed on what we should do when it eventually hits Africa and then Botswana.
It was only around March when WHO declared it a pandemic and we had to do something.
Initially the idea was to have the programme at least once a week just to highlight the issues.
The idea was approved after our first pitch!
It was really to be an educational programme.
The program went on air mid-March but we did not have a presenter.
And so I pitched in for the pilot show whilst we looked for a presenter and that is how I am here 70 episodes later!
After the first show, we received a lot of positive feedback and we were immediately instructed to have it as a daily show.
Q. Would you say the show has raised ratings for Btv?
I think it has. Well, it is the first time Btv has had a daily live program running from Monday to Friday.
Plus with the advent of social media, we have started to Livestream the show and so we are able to check the statistics in that way.
Q. Are you told in advance the announcements to be made that day? Are you privy to such information?
No! Not even. I find out like everybody else right on set.
Even the first death, it was announced by the Vice President and it was very emotional because the death is from Ramotswa where I have roots from my mother’s side.
And contact tracing led to Lehurutshe and I have relatives from there as well.
So you can imagine how emotional and sensitive it can be.
They never tell us anything before making the announcement.
They are always calm even before we go live so we never know.
Q. With your face beamed to the nation every day, do you get recognised when you are out in public?
Like now when I was coming here, somebody stopped me and asked when Ausie Peggy (Minister of Trade and Industry Peggy Serame) is reopening the liquor industry.
Other popular questions are whether we will go into another lockdown and stuff like that.
So yes, I do stop and address the questions wherever I can.
If it is just general information about Covid-19 I do stop and address the concerns.
Q. What is next for you professionally?
I have always wanted to venture into communication.
So I guess that, but those plans have been put on halt for now.
Q. On a lighter note, away from the cameras what else do you get up to?
I used to have good time to read but I don’t have that anymore.
I have a two-year-old son and I have a very demanding job so I don’t get a lot of time to read.
Aside from that, I love good conversations.
I love hanging out at coffee shops but when I am home I catch up on documentaries and Larry King.
Q. Larry King?
Well, he is an interesting character!
I have always admired how he would move from interviewing a Miss World Pageant winner to Former Presidents and powerful businessmen.
So now with the Daily Show which has a different aspect every day, I want to learn from the best how they have done it.
Q. Getting a bit more personal, is Mokgaotsane taken?
Well, I am not married but I am an adult (laughs).
Q. And finally, TGIF, what will you be up to?
I work up until 8pm and I get home to my little boy and give him all my attention.