Lethabo Kganyago Pioneering Change in Women’s Sport

As Lethabo Kganyago’s name echoed through the illustrious halls of the Wanderers Club during the 2023 Momentum gsport Awards, the entire audience erupted in applause, recognising her as the deserving recipient of the Mail & Guardian Woman in Print award. 

Her impactful work advocating for change in women’s sports stood out prominently.

For years, Kganyago has been unwavering in her support for athletes, including her groundbreaking initiative – the inaugural celebration sending heartfelt wishes from Limpopo to international athletes en route to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

Consistently, in our conversations with her, Lethabo has articulated her passionate commitment to effecting meaningful change in women’s sports.

Now hailed as a Momentum gsport Award winner, we had the opportunity to delve deeper and uncover her sentiments on being recognised for her outstanding contributions and how the #PowerOfRecognition has influenced her career trajectory.

In our exclusive interview, Lethabo articulates the pressing need for unwavering support for women in sport, shares her tireless advocacy efforts for transformative change, and expresses her aspirations to cover marquee events such as the World Cup, African Cup of Nations, and Olympics.

Lethabo, congratulations on winning the Mail & Guardian Woman in Print award. You have had a few month for it all to sink in. How does it feel to be a Momentum gsport award winner?

Oh absolutely fantastic! It feels great because gsport is a platform that I feel every woman that practices in this space wishes one day to be recognised. Especially because gsport’s work is specific to women, that the work that I do covering women’s football currently and have been doing covering women’s sport, has an impact. 

It’s been humbling also to actually have a retrospection, to watch everything, to see that nomination, the people you are nominated with, gigantic in their own right. It’s also been humbling that, for a career that I essentially did not choose, a career that chose me, now it’s showing me rewards for the hard work I put in. 

Having won, why do you think the #PowerOfRecognition is important in women’s sport?

It’s a tough question because as most people would know as much as I am a journalist I am public shy so to speak. 

It is important because in a world where women have to work twice as hard and earning not twice as much, and having to literally fight for everything every single day and to just get that recognition of the hard work that you put in. 

To just say some of those fights have been worth it. Being away from home has been worth it.

Do you feel you are now more comfortable to own your success in public spaces?

Ooh… Haha! I don’t know. Actually winning on the gsport stage has put me in the spotlight in a way that I could never have imagined. Because I am somebody who struggles receiving compliments. It could be for hair, it could be for a lipstick, it could be for anything. I will always find a way to side step that and have another conversation aside from saying thank you and actually absorbing the moment, being in the moment, owning the moment. 

I don’t know how I am doing because also since the awards, every single time people that have not seen me since I won the award, they say: ‘Congratulations! Well done, you looked amazing, you looked so beautiful!” …, and I feel like, where do I hide! And I found that I cannot hide, so its still a little bit of a struggle, and I hope it does get better at some point. 

When you look at your career in sports journalism, there is a big focus on gender equality. Tell us about your passion to play your part in levelling the playing fields?

For anything in life we all have to put in some work, especially because this a woman-specific thing, we are going to have to be the ones that open the doors, because for decades men have owned this space and not making it comfortable, not making it co-habitable. 

I do believe it’s within all of us, not just me alone, but also: Why is it that we cannot be great?

We are already great at what we are doing as women, but the fact that men just want to own the space and not make it healthy, not make it safe. That’s one of the things that drives me to say that if I have been here over a decade, and things have not changed in terms of how men look at women, how they like to do their divide-and-conquer as well, what are we saying about the future, whether the future of sports journalism or women in sport as well? 

It’s tough and tiring at times, but there is no other way, because it literally looks like we are continuously fighting. 

It’s something I am really passionate about. I’ve been passionate about getting equal opportunities, getting equal access, getting as much money that if it’s competitive, let’s get money that’s for the market, and not less than that because we just gender quotas.

What are your current work focuses and what are you enjoying most about the work you are currently doing?

Currently I work for a football publication, so all of my focus is on covering football, women’s football. My biggest focus when I got employed at my publication to raise the level of coverage in our newspaper, and I have been so happy to see that we are a weekly publication and we are averaging… at the very least we do have a woman interview or even woman on our cover, as well, at least once a week. 

Even for our digital coverage as well, so that has been the focus, to increase coverage on women’s football, whether it be the Sasol League, whether it be the Hollywoodbets Super League, whether it be Banyana Banyana, U20s, just to increase coverage and maximise exposure so it’s easier to document as well. 

What I have been enjoying the most, as somebody who started in 2009, and now I have had the privilege to look at the growth of women’s football in between the time that I started. and I started as someone as a gender-quota. I didn’t know nothing. Literally, it was a sink or swim situation. 

Fortunately for me I am still here. To watch the transformation of women’s football, to have watched the Sasol league being one of the biggest contributors to women’s football. I remember one of the first women’s tournaments that I covered was the Sasol League National Championships, in Durban. There wasn’t even a promotion to another league, to speak of. 

That Today we get to see teams promoted from Sasol League to a higher league. That’s one of the things that pleased me. 

And the transformation of women in football as well, we see how women are growing in the medicine side of women’s football, administration of women’s football. 

The women’s footballers themselves, these are the girls that work the hardest. They go hustle in Europe, they go hustle overseas, and they come back here, and to have seen their voice grow bigger in 2023. I am enjoying watching all of this. And seeing that possibly there is somewhere where we are going.

What has been your biggest career highlight and how did you celebrate your success?

Ooh.. Ok, if I am thinking, at the top of my head, I don’t know. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Ok, obviously winning awards is nice, winning a gsport award is nicer. Yes!!

Covering big tournaments!! Ja, Ja, covering big tournaments. Ja, I don’t know, but but also I think sometimes for me, my career highlight are not things that are in the public eye. It’s sometimes the coverage of certain stories that I write, and I see it through and they get results. 

I know it’s not like a career highlight, so to speak. But I am just saying that those are some of things… 

Oh ja, and then me and colleagues threw a going-away-party for Banyana girls that were from Limpopo, for the very first World Cup Banyana qualified for in 2019, in France. That may not have come with an award, but that was a real highlight, because I look now, having looked at 2023, and how there were so many going-away-parties and welcome-parties, and everything else. I don’t want to call it trendsetting… that sounds like I am blowing a big horn, which I don’t even have. But that was a highlight for me. 

Also covering international tournaments, and I will give you an example with the Cosafa tournaments I have done, from the women’s championships to the youth U20s… The CAF Champions League qualifiers, when CAF introduced the women’s champions league. Those also stand out. 

How can sportswomen draw closer to the media and ensure their stories are told?

The problem is that most of the time their environments are not allowing them to speak out, or to even be seen with somebody who can potentially write a story, because of the way everything is set up. 

I did write in my official thank you speech for the Momentum gsport Awards, published in iDiski Times. Women do not have the currency to speak out about anything. For most instances, women being drawn closer to the media does not put them in the best light, because their challenges are so much that they get benched or even totally kicked off their sport. 

I feel like that can be helped by the environments that they are in, but for as long as those environments are not fixed, for as long as women’s sport is not professionalised, I think this is going to be a challenge. 

Women in sport in South Africa have tried to create a safe community around each other, which is why I can tell you that from private conversations you have with sportswomen, you also realise that they are really in a tight spot. 

So up until the environment is fixed I don’t know how we are going to really draw closer to each other, to be able to help each other tell the stories that need to be told.

What is your advice to young women in sport media?

My biggest advice to women in sport media: Look after yourself! Look after yourself in more ways than one. Protect yourself. 

Take care of yourself by being prepared for the job. Do your very best to learn what you need to learn, to be where you need to be. So that looking after yourself its looks after the job. 

But importantly, also, speak out for yourself. Nobody is going to do it. And you most know that half of the time your problems are yours. The industry may not understand. Your male colleagues do not understand because they don’t get to experience the same kind of treatment that women experience. Speak out for yourself. Don’t let people touch you weirdly and don’t speak about it. 

Find people that you can speak to, whether it be family, friends in the industry. Find your people that you can speak to. Don’t wander alone. Be safe, so that you are not giving interviews or getting interviews based on people having said they will do certain things for you, because that always backfires, and doesn’t put you in a safe position. For me, it’s safety, safety, safety. Look after yourself. 

Who are your role models in sport and why do they inspire you?

Ooh… If I am being honest, I draw inspiration from different people. There isn’t really a specific somebody. But I’ll tell you this. I loved Bertha Charuma. She is not in sport. I loved her when I was a teenager, and she was at Metro FM. The thing that drew me to want to work on radio, to want to work in media. I really loved her, I loved how she sounded, I loved how she spoke. I really loved her and I still do even to this day. 

In sport, there are quite a lot of people. Obviously Kass as a trailblazer, most of us will look up to her, her endurance, her resilience, being in the industry for as long as she has been. People like Carol Tshabalala as well. I remember when I was starting, I would see her at boxing events. I would be thinking, would I be here for as long as I think I will or I want to. 

Also friends of mine, Busisiwe Mokwena. Even men, my editor, Rob Delport, who I speak to every single day,… who I wish that a lot of people can have editors like him. He also inspires me. Velile Mnyandu also inspire me a lot. I always say to him that sometimes I wish I could see myself how he sees me… there are so many milestones I reached in my career where he has been there and he has encouraged me to say go for it. 

There are quite a lot of people, some of them are not even journalists. There’s a lot of people that I like in the industry that I look up to. Even PR as well. There’s plenty. I really cannot think at the top of my head about some of them. Even younger ones as well they inspire me. The way they are so brave. Half of the things they do and how they get into it. It’s a different spectrum. There’s someone like Sue Destombes. There are quite a few people I look up to. 

What is your greatest career ambition?

Can I say to be rich? Like money rich! Haha! Ja, I’d like to make a lot of money from my career. My biggest career ambitions is to go cover the World Cup. I won’t even lie. but firstly even the African Cup of Nations, and oh my gosh, the Olympics as well, I’d like to do that and do it in a form where I am on the tournament media coverage team. 

You know the kind of team where you are there when they are drawing the lines on the field, and leave after the last banner has been packed up nicely. Those are some of my career ambitions. 

At some point I would like to teach. Teaching is a good love of mine. And I would like to teach final year students that are doing journalism, even post grads as well. And just to teach from an experience point of view. Get them ready for the field, put away the textbooks, let’s talk about what you may expect, what you may come across, what it’s like on the pitch. I’d like to teach at some point. 

I’d really like to do that.

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Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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