Pascalinah Kabi, a pioneering investigative journalist from Lesotho, is the first female journalist to publish an investigative book,"Pollution, Profits, and the People." Pascalinah's work is fueled by a passion for social justice, science, gender, and politics. Through her reporting, she sheds light on the struggles of marginalized communities.
I think the minute we miss that point of what is the impact of the story that I'm doing or the wrongdoing that I'm trying to expose, on an ordinary person on the streets, on an ordinary person in a rural community, I think that's when people lose interest in our investigative journalism. Every time when I embark on an investigative piece, I ask myself, if I was a person on the streets, if I was my grandmother, if I was my mother, if I was a sister or a girl in the rural places. How would this affect me?
About the speaker
Through her Bertha Challenge investigation, Pascalinah Kabi has become the first Lesotho female investigative journalist to publish a book titled Pollution, Profits and the People. She has a keen interest in science related issues, gender and politics. Pascalinah is passionate about social justice journalism and through her work, she wants to be remembered as a champion of social justice journalism in her home country of Lesotho.
So I grew up in the urban areas of Lesotho. What was quite interesting that I think shaped my being as a journalist quite early in my life is the fact that at my village we had issues with access to water. So I would take turns with my siblings to collect water. So when it was your turn or my turn, I would have to wake up as early as 3 am to go to the well, unprotected well, and queue there and collect water for the entire family. I didn't really like that. I think it was a pain in the ass. I hated it with all my being, because my sleep would be disturbed, in the class during the day I would also be sleepy, and that was a menace to my wellbeing.
My name is Pascalinah Kabi. I'm 40 years old and the mother of one child; so this is me, a journalist. So I've grown from where I started as a junior to now an experienced investigative journalist and also the first female Lesotho journalist to publish an investigative book.
So the book is called Pollution, Profits and the People, which was published in 2022 as part of my Bertha Fellowship. Basically my project with the fellowship was to investigate the impacts of mining operations on the water sources in Lesotho, as well as to investigate the imbalance between protecting water sources in Lesotho and maximizing profits out of the environment in the country.
So basically, that's me.
In 2007, I got a sponsorship from the World Council of Churches to go and pursue a diploma in Journalism, Media and Communication in Zambia. Prior to that scholarship, after I failed my diploma in Marketing, I stayed home for a year. So it was during that year that at church services, at youth gatherings, I would start sharing current affairs, like I would listen to the radio, and then during the gatherings, I would tell them: 'do you know that this is what is happening locally, nationally, and even globally?'.
So one of the leaders spotted my interest. I think I didn't even realize that I was passionate about journalism until he said, ‘I think you would make a good journalist’. So that's when I woke up and I said, 'wow, I've been doing this quite a lot now for the whole year, educating my community at a church level'. That's when I realized that not only had I started with educating or sharing the current affairs with my communities, but it was my passion.
I started as an entertainment and sports reporter. So my journey was quite interesting because I left the weekly that I used to work for Lesotho Times and joined another weekly, which is Public Eye. And while I was at Public Eye, one of the senior reporters left, like resigned with immediate effect. So the editor at that time called me in his office and said, 'you are no longer a sports reporter. I'm promoting you to a feature writer.' So this is how I got into investigative journalism. I worked really hard. I started cultivating sources. And I started breaking stories that many reporters in my country wouldn't have.
The manner in which I love about carrying out my investigation or writing my investigative pieces is that I always want to demonstrate how this particular issue that I'm investigating is impacting an ordinary person on the ground, because I think the minute we miss that point of what is the impact of the story that I'm doing or the wrongdoing that I'm trying to expose on an ordinary person on the streets, on an ordinary person at the rural community; I think that's when people lose interest in our investigative journalism. Every time when I embark on an investigative piece, I ask myself, if I was a person on the streets, if I was my grandmother, if I was my mother, if I was a sister or a girl in the rural places, how would this affect me? And then I try to talk to the people and ask the people now on the ground. How is this affecting you? Sometimes it's not even asking, how is this affecting? It's just asking, what is the problem with water in your community? And then the more you discuss with them, the more you realize that this issue is basically connected with what people are experiencing on the ground.
So the investigation that is very close, closest to my heart, is the one that I did on the impact of mining operations on the water sources in Lesotho. First, because I got to meet great strong women in the grassroots of Lesotho who are at the forefront of fighting for access to clean water for their communities. Look, it's not every day that you find women at the forefront fighting for access to clean water. So when you meet those women who are risking it all for their community, that made me proud, and it made me realize that I'm onto something here. And that there are a lot of, as women, we need to come together because together we make 'us' a very strong case. So for me, it was an emotional experience to watch.
I'm also proud about this investigation because for the longest time, the people of Lesotho in the highlands, were complaining and telling stories of blue, toxic water in their rivers, in their streams, and the mines were brushing them off as lies. So when I got the confidential reports that corroborated what these people were saying, that made me proud that I have given these people the evidence, the much needed evidence to make their case strong.
I look at the book and I am proud that I've been able to step by step work with my readers in that book to tell stories of water pollution, to tell stories of lack of access to clean water in my country, to share my own personal story of access to clean water. And one of the things that also makes me very proud about this work is the fact that I didn't just go and talk to the communities. So I wasn't engaging in this extractive type of journalism, where we go take and come back. So what I did is I went, I spent a lot of time staying in the rural communities learning how they carry out their day to day job. And after I had done the investigations. I went back and said, 'these are the stories that you shared with me. Are these your stories? Did we misquote you?' So it was quite emotional seeing people that I regard as my elders. Some are old enough to be my parents. Some even my grandparents. But they trusted me with their voices, they trusted me with their stories, and they were happy that I had told their stories as they are. And that brought a smile to my face.
Personally, I would like to be remembered as a champion of social justice journalism in my country. So when I look at the impact that we have had so far because of this investigation, that I did, it solidifies my wanting to be remembered as a champion of social justice journalism.
So the challenges that I experienced as an investigative journalist is that, first of all, access to information in Lesotho and I think in many parts of the world, is a serious issue for investigative journalists. Particularly when you are operating in a country like Lesotho where in most cases, civil servants will flatly refuse to give you, or, to give an investigative journalist that report without any reason.
The other issue is that, in Lesotho right now and other countries in the region, are introducing the cyber security law, which, if the bill is passed as is, in its original form, it threatens the investigative journalism and it carries very hefty, hefty, fines that we cannot afford as journalists in the country.
So the other issue that I think is quite challenging is that, as a woman, the way we are perceived, we are perceived as though we're supposed to be undertaking soft news stories, not investigative. And because many sources, many government officials or private sectors are male; sometimes it's difficult for them to see you as a valued person, as a competent person to do their stories. So it makes the job even more double difficult by virtue of one being a woman. What really gets to me is the fact that my colleagues in the media and other people who've gotten to know me, they refer to my being brave, as if you are a man, you are not a woman. And that is quite, for lack of a better word, insulting.
Oh, the other biggest challenge is that from around 2010 to now there's been a polarization of the media in my country. Where journalists now work with politicians to push a certain propaganda and all that. So that polarization has eroded trust of our audience to the media. It means that we must do a lot of digging, unnecessary digging to try and convince the people that this is the truth. So in the face of disinformation and misinformation, investigative journalism is much needed, but at the same time is being questioned. The credibility of stories that we produce are constantly being questioned because of the disinformation and misinformation that are being propelled by some reporters who have now gone in bed with politicians and other individuals who are politically exposed.
So investigative journalism is a very unsafe space, where most of the time one is forced to look over their shoulders. As a journalist, you try to attend courses on safety, you try to have sources that are more experienced in terms of security, so that they may assist in terms of giving tips on how to go about certain issues.
So in 2018, at the beginning of my investigative journalism. I got a confidential report and wrote two stories on the Lesotho Defense Force; on how the soldiers were accusing the Lesotho Defense Force of mistreating them, of dishonoring the promises that were made. I gave the army the opportunity to respond to the allegations. Two days after I published the last story, I received a call from the then army spokesperson telling me that 'we are particularly not happy with the way you have published the stories and we are writing you a letter'.
So the letter was written to me in my personal capacity and I was called a spy. So being called a spy by the army is quite threatening. But before I received the letter, I remember very well that I could see that I was being followed on my way home as I was traveling. I lived in fear for almost a month, sleeping from one place to another. At that time, my daughter was still very young. So, I had to make arrangements for her to go and stay with her father. So this one time, I'm picking her from her father's place to take her to the saloon. And I think I'm being careful. So on the way to the saloon, she says, 'Mommy, we are being followed'. And I dismissed her. But I had already picked that we are being followed. So that was a breaking point for me. Because you want to protect your loved ones more so when it's a child, you don't want to bring your work home where your child gets to experience these issues which you think you are trying to be careful about.
So I cried right then and there; because I thought I had failed her. I should have been more careful. So those moments of my career, when I look back, I'm glad and I'm thankful that I survived. But, I was scared emotionally. I am glad that I published those stories. But I keep asking myself, was it worth it?
So fast forward now, I still do investigative journalism. Is it worth it? Yes, it is worth it. But I will always, always put my foot down and say, no story is worth my life. And I hope that those that we investigate and publish stories that expose their wrongdoings will realize that investigative journalism is not a crime and that it's nothing personal. We are doing the stories because they are of public interest. We are doing the stories because we want corrective measures to be taken for the benefit of the people on the ground. If I investigate a story and publish it, and there is an impact, I sleep better at night. If I get to the bottom of the truth and people start talking about that in their different corners, in their different places, I sleep better at night. Because I think that I'm contributing towards the development of my country. We live, as journalists, we live to give voice and image to the data that we scrap every day. So when, when the voices and the images that we bring to the forefront that carries our stories. I'm happy with the job that we've done, not because we are siding with them, but because there is an impact that changes their lives. That is the ultimate goal for any journalist, I think.
I think what I want to do next, is to continue to promote the book, to continue to do follow up stories on what is happening on the ground, on what the government is doing to try and hold the mines accountable. What corrective measures are the mines taking to address the challenges that we raised in the book.
I think it's going to be quite an interesting journey from here onwards, where in honor of my late mother, I'm going to try as much as possible to give women the voices that are much needed in the media space. And I think, I don't just owe it to my mother. I also owe it to every single woman in my country who has a story to tell but has not been given a platform.
The Exposing the Invisible podcast series is produced by Tactical Tech.
Interview, Production and Sound Design by Mariam Aboughazi.
Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible team includes Laura Ranca, Lieke Ploeger, Wael Eskandar, Marek Tuszynski and Christy Lange.
Theme Music by Wael Eskandar.
Daemones byKai Engel Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution License (CC BY). Warm of Mechanical Heart by Kai Engel, Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution License (CC BY). Augmentations by Kai Engel, Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License (CC BY-NC). Forgive and Forget by Siddhartha Corsus, Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC).
Illustration by Ann Kiernan
With support from