By Ruth Kedikilwe
Twenty-two year old Katso Tlobogang’s rise from a laughing stock to national acclaim is a classic modern day Cinderella fairy tale. What looked like a moment of despair turned into a rapture of exaltation for the Ramotswa youngster when a nasty run of cyber-bullying ricocheted her from zero to hero.
Earlier this month Tlobogang was the butt of cyber-bullies’ nasty jokes for what they deemed a wardrobe malfunction at a local red carpet event. She endured the worst kind of bullying on Facebook because of the choice of clothes she wore to the event.
The tirade was cut short by Francistown based entrepreneur, Theo Khumo who called the bullies out and extended a helping hand to the young girl who has now morphed into a confident young woman with a seemingly bright future ahead of her. Khumo alongside a group of other men and women rallied behind Katso and gave her the support to overcome the bullying. And like the Ugly Duckling in the children’s fairytale Katso transformed into the beautiful swan that we now see splashed all over social media today.
Relating her ordeal, the soft spoken beauty could not quantify the pain she went through when reading people’s comments on her timeline. “I had left my phone at home so people started calling my mum who quietly pulled me aside and informed me that she had received phone calls informing her that I was trending on Facebook,” she said.
Katso claimed to have laughed it off hoping her mother was joking only to suffer the worst when she got home and switched her laptop on to discover grown men and women old enough to be her parents trying to outdo each other in ridiculing her dress sense. She paused for a few seconds and said, “I cried for days and I couldn’t eat. My mother had to force feed me because I was weak and my health was at risk.”
A new dawn came with new opportunities for Katso. In the same way some Batswana broke her spirit others came through for her. She claims that Natasha Proctor and Theo Khumo among the many showed her a different kinder side of humanity. She speaks fondly of Minister Thapelo Olopeng whose date out to lunch landed her a lucrative deal with Woolworth’s chain which has appointed her as their Influencer of their Winter 2019 range. “I have always wanted to be a model, I have imagined myself on the runway at international fashion shows and that is slowly becoming a reality which is the upside of me having been bullied.
Katso completed her certificate in Banking and Finance last year but now sees herself pursuing a career in the fashion industry. She cannot wait for the Europe summer as part of her gift is a shopping spree in Turkey courtesy of Premiere Clothing.
Any kind of bullying is embarrassing, devastating and overwhelming. It is very difficult for victims to confide in anyone as it is a blow their ego and confidence. Masunga based Social Worker Onneile Saru-Bhayani who was part of the “Save Katso’ campaign, contributing counseling services to the damsel in distress could not find enough words to explain the importance of undergoing counseling suffering the trauma of cyber bullying. “Words are extremely powerful and can hurt deeply. The most popular reaction is to mask that pain and pretend that they don’t care whilst they are in immense pain. We can dress Katso in the best outfits and have her made up but unless she feels good about herself it will all be in vain”, she said.
Victims of bullying especially about their appearance run the risk of acting out of character all in the name of trying to fit in. According to Saru-Bhayani the victims are also prone to being in abusive relationships and being exploited by those who posses financial muscle to maintain the lavish lifestyle they want to keep up in order to avoid being bullied again. “We need to continue counseling Katso for a while because she was catapulted into a lifestyle she was not accustomed to at the blink of an eye which is potentially detrimental to her mental health,” said Saru-Bhayani. Over the years as a counselor Saru-Bhayani claims to have witnessed people who undergo drastic lifestyle adjustments turn in to people vulnerable to substance abuse and toxic relationships which is why they will continue with counseling Katso as she progresses in her journey.
In order to give back to the community, Katso is embarking on a project where she intends to visit primary schools and speak to students about cyber bullying. According to Theo, she will be piloting this project in her home village Ramotswa on how she overcame bullying and made the best out of possibly the worst situation she had ever found herself in.
Cyber-bullying is the new scourge of Botswana’s cybersphere and among the many public figures who have had the worst of it are former President Lt Gen Ian Khama and Botswana Movement for Democracy president Sidney Pilane.
The BMD leader has in the past been the butt of cyber-bullies’ jokes in an attack named the “Pilane challenge.” Most recently, Khama was the cyber bullies’ roast with the “Seretse Kgama” challenge. chartrooms like E-Dumela and “do you know this man” have in the past been used as alters for slut shamming and body shamming.