Community radio as
participatory communication in post-apartheid
Anthony A. Olorunnisola1
This paper evaluates the
evolution of community radio in post-apartheid South Africa where a three-tier
broadcasting system - public, commercial, and community - has replaced the
monopoly of a state-run behemoth, the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
The paper commences with an overview of South Africa's institutionalized culture
of exclusion in the broadcasting sector and in other social spheres. A
conceptual review of participatory communication precedes and provides
foundation for the examination of the operations of two community radio stations
located in two of South Africa's previously marginalized and disenfranchised
communities. Though South Africa's adoption of community radio answers perpetual
questions about the sustenance of community radio, the ongoing experience poses
a few challenges.
The word 'participation'
it changes its color and
shape at the will of the hands
in which [it] is held.
Shirley A. White
The advent of community radio in South Africa is one of the less publicized but
direct outcomes of the country's transition to multiracial democracy in 1994. A
few short years ago, community radio was virtually unknown in South Africa. By
the end of 1999 there were already sixty-five community radio stations
broadcasting in and to communities in rural, semi-urban and urban areas of the
republic (Siemering, Fairbairn and Rangana, 1998). In addition, community radio
stations whose license applications are under consideration may soon bring the
total to a little over 250 (Siemering, Fairbairn and Rangana, 1998). With the
sixty-five or more stations currently on air, South Africa now has the largest
and most vibrant community radio sector on the African continent (Nell and
Before South Africa's transition to multiracial democracy in 1994, the minority
white government's use of apartheid laws won global notoriety for separating
citizens into geographical, social and political enclaves. For instance, the
Group Areas Act of 1949 separated the different population groups into distinct
geographical areas. The South African Defense and Police Forces secured the
apartheid state and ascertained that all races remained separated and unequal as
stipulated by the stringent laws. As a state monopoly, the South African
Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) policed the airwaves and controlled the
broadcasting industry. As Hachten and Giffard aptly stated
(T)he first radio
service in 1927 was directed at the white English speakers and the first
television service introduced in 1976 was for whites only. Through much of its
media history, the “non-Europeans” have been eavesdroppers (p. ix).
apartheid-era language policy codified and institutionalized nine African
languages used in broadcasting services disseminated to the 'ethnic' groups
identified with those languages. As Barnett noted,
[b]roadcasting in South
Africa has not been organized either culturally or technologically to provide
a common space for communication, but has instead worked to reproduce notions
of separate and distinct populations with their own separate cultures (p.
In this way the structure
of the South African broadcasting sector mirrored the socio-political cleavages
of its context.
Notwithstanding the history of exclusion of and discrimination against the
majority, the evolution of community radio stations in South Africa is not
peculiar. The experiences of minority groups in Europe, Australia, North and
Latin America showed that community radio has traditionally grown out of
repressive socio-political experiences. Marginalized communities have typically
adopted community radio as a tool for highlighting their fundamental rights.
Such communities have used radio to raise and address issues unique to their
experiences. In particular, minority groups marginalized by the mainstream media
find solace in the capabilities of community radio. In Latin American countries,
community radio, otherwise known as peoples' radio, became the voice of the poor
and the voiceless, the landless peasants, the urban shack dwellers, the
impoverished indigenous nations and the trade unions. Given the kind of
populations to whom they are targeted, community radio outlets have also been
used as tools for development (Siemering, Fairbairn and Rangana, 1998).
The black, “non-white” and “non-European”1
communities in South Africa share all of the foregoing factors with marginalized
communities around the world. However, the evolution of community radio in South
Africa offers its own peculiarities. In the first instance, the segment of the
population that was politically repressed and marginalized by the mainstream
media was indeed the majority, not the minority as the case may be in otherwise
similar contexts. Using population figures available in 1984, Hachten and
Giffard reported as follows:
There are about 5
million “whites” of whom about 2.5 million are Afrikaans-speaking
Afrikaners, and about 1.5 million are ESSAs (English-speaking South Africans).
In addition there are about 1 million other “Europeans,” mainly recently
arrived Portuguese, Italians, and Greeks, who are largely inactive
politically. Among nonwhites or “blacks” are about 21 million Africans
(Zulus, Xhosas, Sothos, Tswanas, Swazis, Vendas, Ndebeles, Shangaans, etc.),
2.7 million racially mixed “Coloreds,” and 840,000 “Asians,” mostly
The foregoing demographic
information is evidence that apartheid was, in part, government by the minority
over the majority.
Secondly, given that the political tables have now turned in South Africa, the
Afrikaans-speaking Afrikaners and the English-speaking South Africans have
become the de facto minorities. Hence, a discussion of the historical growth of
community radio in South Africa would be incomplete without the inclusion of the
participation of white supremacist groups. There is in fact evidence that the
evolution of community radio in South Africa owes its genesis to supremacist
organizations such as the Pretoria Boerkammando and the Afrikaaner Volksfront (AVF),
who “stole the airwaves” by setting up their own radio stations in some
cases, without a license. Radio Vryheid, Radio Donkerhoek, Radio Koppies, Radio
Volkstem and Radio Pretoria fall into the category.
Against the historical background of institutionalized and non-participatory
conditions, the development of community radio in South Africa is particularly
newsworthy. There is additional worth in examining its operational circumstances
and the challenges faced by the mushrooming sector. As such, this paper places
South Africa's socio-political context and the transformation of the
broadcasting sector in proper perspective by: (1) Examining the radio
broadcasting scenario in South Africa at the precipice of the country's
transition to multiracial democracy; (2) reviewing the notion of participatory
communication as a post-apartheid possibility and as a concept whose development
is fluid enough to be contextually unique; (3) assessing the role of two
community radio stations in enabling previously marginalized South Africans to
participate in the new environment of multiracial democracy. In the process, the
strategic roles of donor agencies that have assisted the growth of community
radio stations in South Africa is acknowledge and critiqued.
A universal hunch connected all three objectives of this paper. We suspected
that the apartheid history and notoriety of South Africa should present the
adoption of community radio with challenges equal in magnitude to the
peculiarity of the operative context. If there are indeed peculiarities in the
growth of community radio and in the roles that they are playing in
post-apartheid South Africa, we suspect that the experience may answer some of
the perpetual questions about the sustenance of community radio and raise new
ones. Both possibilities should be of interest to radio scholars.
Radio broadcasting in
South Africa at the precipice of transition
By the beginning of the 1990s, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)
had become an information behemoth with controls over radio and television
broadcasting. In addition to operating as a national network of radio and
television, the SABC was the propaganda arm of the Afrikaner-controlled National
Party. The corporation's affiliation with the ruling National Party influenced
the programming, the channel structure, the staffing, and the language policy of
all the radio and television outlets under its management (Giffard, de Beer, and
Until the reforms and negotiations of the early 1990s, the SABC dominated the
airwaves with a vast network of 30 radio services broadcast over 500 FM
transmitters linked by Intelsat satellite. Some of the outlets were national
(Radio South Africa, Radio 5, Afrikaans Stereo, Radio Metro); others were
regional (Highveld Stereo, Radio Oranje, Radio Port Natal and Radio Algoa) while
a number of the outlets were aimed at particular groups in the vernacular (Radio
Sesotho, Radio Venda, Radio Swazi, and Zulu Stereo). Seven of SABC's radio
channels could be received from high-quality FM transmitters nationwide (De
The reforms of the
Former President F. W. De Klerk accomplished three remarkable political feats
with his February 1990 policy speech. One, he repealed the state of emergency
regulations with which South Africa had been held bondage for four years
(1986-1990). Two, he lifted the ban on liberation movements that included the
African National Congress (ANC). Three, he freed political prisoners that
included Nelson Mandela who had been jailed for twenty-seven years.
The political changes that De Klerk's actions initiated had immediate
implications for the dissemination of information and media operations in South
Africa. In particular, the broadcasting system entered a democratization and
transformation phase. By 1991, the Council for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA),
a negotiating body, had placed the need to reform the broadcasting sector on the
agenda of the major political stakeholders that benefited from De Klerk's
initiative. This marked the beginning of the struggle for and the negotiation of
the liberation of the South African airwaves.
While negotiations were in progress, the ruling National Party issued some
community radio licenses to stations handpicked by the Ministry of Home Affairs
without the participation of other political parties. In response, two stations
in Cape Town went on air in defiance of government's action. One of those was
Bush Radio that targeted audiences in the Cape Flats area. Bush Radio was
immediately shut down and its owners prosecuted. The charges were, however,
later dropped. The other was Radio Zibonele,2
a health focused station broadcasting to a section of Khayelitsha. Unlike Bush
Radio, Radio Zibonele kept a low profile. As a result agencies of the government
did not consider its operations a threat and, therefore, ignored its activities
(Gumucio Dagron, 2001; Siemering, Fairbairn & Rangana, 1998).
The 1993 IBA Act
As South Africa's first multiracial elections drew near, political parties
interested in breaking the monopoly of the SABC over the airwaves began to put
pressure on CODESA. In response, CODESA drew up the Independent Broadcasting
Authority Act. The 1993 Act established the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA)
whose tasks included: (1) making policy on broadcasting; (2) issuing broadcast
licenses and; (3) regulating and monitoring broadcasting activities in South
The Act also mandated the IBA to administer the airwaves without any
interference whatsoever from the government. However, by far the most important
aspect of the IBA Act was its recognition of a three-tier broadcasting system --
public, commercial and community -- in place of the monopolistic coverage of the
airwaves by the SABC.3
The same IBA Act provided for broadcasting services that catered to all
linguistic and cultural groups. While the services of the broadcasting outlets
were to be responsive to public need, the Act emphasized the need to protect a
national and regional identity. The IBA was equally charged with the additional
responsibility of limiting cross-media ownership, enforcing local content quotas
and inquiring into ways of financing broadcasting (Barnett, 1999; Giffard, De
Beer & Steyn, 1997). Among IBA's additional responsibilities, enforcing of
local content quotas proved more time consuming.
There were multiple reasons for enforcing local content quota. One is to ensure
the promotion of a national and provincial identity. The other is the need for
broadcast programs to cater to the wide-ranging languages spoken by the peoples
of South Africa. By implication, however, IBA's enforcement was expected to
create an economically buoyant local production sector. Given the need for
measured transformation, however, the IBA left ample room for operatives'
adjustment. In its specification of timeline for implementing local music
quotas, for example, the agency allowed broadcasters room to phase in South
African music. By 2000, however, community radio stations were expected to have
achieved a 55% local music quota.
Origin and categories
of community radio stations
In the weeks following the first multiracial elections in 1994, the IBA
determined that community radio was top priority and that the first few radio
licenses would be issued to operatives in this sector. The first recipient of
the IBA license was Radio Maritzburg in the Kwazulu-Natal Region. Quickly
deluged with applications from prospective radio stations, the IBA had issued 82
community radio licenses by August 1995. At the beginning, only temporary
licenses were issued. Each station with a temporary license was to renew every
year. In 1996, the IBA introduced a four-year license for community radio
Also among the early recipients of community radio licenses were right wing
radio stations that the IBA could not deny licenses. In the new democratic
atmosphere, the latter development broadened the definition of community radio
in South Africa to encompass four distinct types.
In the first category are stations serving geographical areas. Examples include
communities disadvantaged during the apartheid era. The development of early
'geographic' community radio stations was motivated by the efforts of donors and
activists in the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) sector. Both Bush Radio and
Radio Zibonele fall into the category of 'geographic' community radio stations.
In the second category are campus-based radio stations that are active on
college and university campuses.4
A good number of the stations in this category are daytime deejay booths in
students' cafeteria. Examples of campus-based community radio stations include
Radio Matie FM (University of Stellenbosch), Durban Youth Radio (University of
Natal/Durban) and Rhodes Music Radio (Rhodes University, Grahamstown).
The IBA also issued licenses to various religious stations. Most of these are
evangelical Christian and Muslim radio stations. There are also a few Hindu
A fourth category of community radio stations targets cultural and ethnic
communities. In this category is a strong network of stations owned by Afrikaner
communities. A wide range of radio stations also serve South Africans of
Portuguese, Chinese, and Greek origin.
The notion of
Many authors have noted that the concept of participatory communication lacks a
definition capable of enabling a thorough understanding of the processes and
outcomes involved. In her introduction to a recent assessment of participatory
communication sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, Gray-Felder (2001) noted,
“the most interesting work of a participatory nature can often defy the
written word,” (p. 1). In the same vein, White (1994) observed, “the word
'participation' is kaleidoscopic; it changes its color and shape at the will of
the hands in which [it] is held,” (p. 8).
Neither the absence of an accurate means of capturing the essence of
participatory communication nor the fluid nature of participation has reduced
the realization that the varying forms of both appear to have become useful in
contexts with histories of exclusion and discrimination. In many African, Asian
and Latin American countries, participation and communication are often
bedfellows in the movement toward engaging previously disenfranchised
populations in social dialogue.
Two questions appear fundamental to our understanding of the notion of
participatory communication as it relates to community radio. One, in what ways
do the roles and association between political actors, the mass media and the
public change in a participatory communication environment? Two, what should the
notable dividends of participatory communication be?
Generations of mass communication scholars (see, e.g., Bogue, 1979; Ezrai, 1990;
Gumucio Dagron, 2001; Habermas, 1989; Katz, 1996; McQuail, 2000; Melkote, 1991;
Olorunnisola, 1997) have considered the foregoing questions. Their contribution
to our understanding of participatory communication is useful in the current
exercise. Undoubtedly, the introduction of the notion of participatory
communication to a context that has had South Africa's level of
institutionalized disenfranchisement deserves critical examination.
Role alternation and
In what ways do the roles and associations between political actors, the mass
media and the public change in a participatory communication context? There
appears to be consensus around the notion that the alternation of power and
control between otherwise contesting stakeholders such as political actors,
media and the public lie at the base of what constitutes participatory
communication. By nature, participatory communication puts decision making in
the hands of the public. This translocation enables communities to express their
own ideas and opinions. The change also democratizes the local political process
(Gumucio Dagron, 2001). Given that power does not reside in a vacuum, the
control that the stakeholders in traditional media structures lose shifts into
the hands of newly empowered community members. In the ensuing context,
communities are able to express their thoughts about problems pertaining to
their livelihood and daily existence.
The radio medium has been a frequent stakeholder in both participatory
communication and in the oscillating trends in social development. Radio is
popularly recognized as one of the best ways to reach excluded or marginalized
communities in targeted and useful ways. Apart from its ubiquitous presence in
most African homesteads (Bogue, 1979; Olorunnisola, 1997), another advantage
that a radio medium owned by the community offers is the ability of the listener
to “hear” content, context, passion and pain in the words and terms used by
the targeted communities (Gumucio Dagron, 2001).
What should the dividends of participatory communication be? One anticipated
dividend of participatory communication is the restoration or installation of
cultural pride, self-esteem, and identity in communities that have been
marginalized, repressed or neglected over lengthy periods of time. Social and
political abandonment are often characteristic of communities in authoritarian
contexts. Neglect has also been a feature of development programs whose
strategies fail to include the cultural perspectives of the communities that
would be the recipients of planned social change initiatives (Melkote, 1991).
When a community's participation in the public sphere is welcome, members become
actors whose voices are included in the content. This is contrary to being
passive recipients of information that may have nothing to do with the realities
of their daily experiences. In this new context, third parties are not involved
in making communications decisions on issues that affect the communities. This
process is a departure from the trend notable in the dominant paradigm of
development where decision-making is top-down with no built-in mechanism for
feedback from the community during the planning, the execution and the
evaluation stages of the programs. Where participation is inculcated as a
dimension, people are involved in the process rather than being human subjects
of social change campaigns (Katz, 1996).
Also, the involvement of communities in development processes changes the goal
from a short-term one primarily concerned with showing prompt results to donors
and external evaluators to one with the tolerance that allows communities to
appropriate the essence and management of the program. In this process, one
expected outcome is collective appropriation. The collective does not lose power
to the few individuals with the resources to usurp community interests for
private purposes (Gumucio Dagron, 2001).
When participatory communication involves such an enterprise as community radio,
the predominance of ownership over mere access is emphasized. The argument is
that a communication process that is owned by the community tends to provide
equal opportunity to members (Gumucio Dagron, 2001).
Ezrahi (1990) has noted that functions of media in democratic settings include
making the political process transparent and teaching political norms, e.g.,
that the constitution has made provisions for the impeachment of a president and
for succession in case of assassination. Avenues through which communities are
able to feed their responses back to the government should also be high on the
list of political norms to be disseminated. Should the participation of
previously marginalized communities include a process that eliminates feedback
to the government? There is agreement that the public sphere lies between the
'base' and the 'top' of society and that mediation should take place between the
two locations (see, e.g., McQuail, 2000; Habermas, 1989; Katz, 1996).
outlets in context
A better way to gauge the extent to which community radio stations in South
Africa exhibit the ideals of participatory communication is to examine them in
context. The following paragraphs profile Bush Radio and Radio Zibonele -- two
geographic community radio stations that commenced operation without licenses
and before the creation of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). Today,
both stations operate under licenses issued by the IBA in the Western Cape
By self-acclamation, Bush Radio6
is the “mother of community radio in Africa.” Bush Radio has its origin in
the communal activities of members of CASET, an organization of community-minded
individuals who produced, duplicated, and distributed cassette tapes in
townships in the Cape Town area. The content of CASET's tapes took on issues
such as literacy, personal hygiene and the dangers of criminal activities in the
community. When operators of CASET found out that Afrikaans' supremacist groups
were broadcasting without a license in the Pretoria area, they publicized their
decision to go on air and did so in April 1993. The law enforcement agents
responded immediately. Officers of the police force broke into CASET's studio,
seized equipment and arrested two of the members. The charges were later
dropped. We have no evidence that any of the white supremacist groups suffered
the same fate in the hands of law enforcement agents.
Located in the heart of Cape Town, Bush Radio eventually received an official
license on August 1, 1995. Bush Radio broadcasts in English, Afrikaans and
isiXhosa to cater to the diverse population of the target area. Six full time
workers and many volunteers staff Bush Radio. About 250,000 listeners are
estimated to receive Bush Radio's programs daily.
Programs on Bush Radio fall into four categories. One set falls under the talk
show category with each providing community members with the opportunity to
explore issues that range from health through gender relations and current
affairs to the administration of the radio station. For instance, Focus on
Bush is a talk show that welcomes listeners' opinions on and criticisms of
all radio programs. The program is itself an extension of a monthly open forum
dedicated to the same purpose. Through Focus on Bush and the monthly open
forum, listeners are also able to offer suggestions of programs that they would
like aired while station operators inform the listening public of developments
at the radio station.
Bush Radio also runs a slew of music programs dedicated to music and musicians
from the Western Cape and international locations. Its Everyday People,
aired daily for three hours, profiles local music and artists. Soul Makossa,
aired every Wednesday, plays music produced by artists on the African continent.
Head Warmers, a Friday evening program, focuses on American Hip Hop music
and the accompanying culture.
Bush Radio also broadcasts community outreach programs. Many of the programs
under this category are products of collaboration with various community
organizations. Some are CO-created and CO-produced by members of staff and
“experts” in the local community. For instance, fourth- and fifth-year law
students at the University of Cape Town ran Bush Radio's weekly Community Law
program. The program explains legal issues to listeners in a language that they
understand. Bush Radio also participated in a 1998 Voter Education pilot
program sponsored by the Netherlands Institute for South Africa (NIZA). The
thrust of the program was for participating radio stations to facilitate voter
literacy in their communities. Drama and radio spots were used to encourage
voter registration in the days leading to the 1999 elections -- the second since
South Africa's transition to multiracial democracy in 1994. Listeners were also
encouraged to vote in the elections. As the election progressed, Bush Radio
aired spots that promoted political tolerance and denounced violence as an
unnecessary part of the election process.
International programs make up the fourth category of programs aired on Bush
Radio. Unlike the local programs, international programs are rebroadcasts of
foreign programs. One of such programs is the Voice of America's Talk to
America, carried live from Washington, D.C. Bush Radio listeners are able to
call in to the program, at no charge, to voice their opinion on the issues on
the agenda. Also, Bush Radio rebroadcasts BBC's Focus on Africa, a
feature length program that takes an in depth look at contemporary Africa.
Frequently, VOA and BBC programs are rebroadcast overnight on Bush Radio.
Bush Radio's audited financial statements for the years 1998 through 2000 show
that consistently, more than 50% of the station's revenue is generated through
grants donated by local and international funding agencies. In 1998, when the
station had an income of R461,8927,
fifty-three percent of the sum (R248,857) accrued from grants. Also in 1999,
R1,075,627 (or 70.3%) of Bush Radio's total income of R1,528,197 accrued from
grants. In 2000, Bush Radio posted an annual income of R1,255,463. Though the
amount represented a budgetary decrease for the year, R1,027,756 (or 81.8%) of
the sum were grants donated to Bush Radio by funding agencies.
When compared to grants, Bush Radio's advertising revenue consistently decreased
as a percentage of total income in the years covered by the audited financial
records. In 1998, advertising revenue amounted to R182,795 (39.5%) of the total
income of R461,892. In financial years 1999 (R214,920) and 2000 (R186,243),
advertising revenue fell to 14% of total revenue. While most community radio
stations in South Africa speak to a small advertising market, Bush Radio
addresses a suburban audience with the potential to offer extensive advertising
There are, however, two connected explanations for the radio station's dwindling
advertising revenue. One is Bush Radio's unmatched success in securing large
sums of grant income from local and foreign agencies. Another is Bush Radio's
reputation for socially conscious advertising revenue generation. For instance,
as a demonstration of its support for a healthcare message dedicated to the
eradication of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Bush Radio enforced an advertising
policy that shuns alcohol promotions. Also by editorial choice, Bush Radio does
not carry tobacco advertising. These policies are evidently affordable given
Bush Radio's access to grants from donor agencies.
Beyond audience calls-in to its talk, music and international programs, Bush
Radio has not conducted a structured impact assessment of its program offerings.
However, one accomplishment that many stakeholders in the community radio sector
agree on is the success of Bush Radio's cross-media training program (Gumucio
Dagron, 2001; Nell and Shapiro, 2001). Courses offered in the station's
facilities include basic and advanced news, feature/program production and
management. Other courses include election reporting, coverage of gender and
violence issues, accounting, finance and marketing for community broadcasters.
The station also offers internship programs for high school and college
students. Since its inception Bush Radio has trained many journalists who now
work in public, commercial, and community radio stations nationwide.
Bush Radio's Prison Radio program has also won accolades. The training
program, developed in collaboration with the University of Cape Town's
criminology department, was designed to equip young people convicted of various
offences with radio station management skills. Prison authorities are reportedly
convinced that the therapeutic effect that the program had on the inmates has
been beneficial to the rehabilitation of convicts (Gumucio Dagron, 2001; Nell
and Shapiro, 2001).
Though Bush Radio devotes a lot of air and off-air time to community focused and
outreach programs, there are concerns about the amount of program time it
devotes to foreign rebroadcasts. One of the foreign programs featured under its
Global Talkshow time slot is Talk to America, received from Voice of
America (VOA) via satellite and rebroadcast live everyday between 7:00 and 8:00
P.M. The other foreign program, BBC's Focus on Africa, is broadcast
weekly as a fill-in. In addition to airing VOA and BBC programs overnight,
between 1:00 and 6:00 AM, there have also been rebroadcasts from Radio France
International (RFI) and Radio Netherlands.
While Bush Radio's menu of programs may meet the local content quota stipulated
by the IBA, the station's daily devotion of prime time to the rebroadcast of
foreign programs may compromise its mission as a community radio station that
should devote more air time to community-focused programs. Bush Radio's audited
financial reports indicate that Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa, Radio
Netherlands and the Voice of America are among the sources of grants that the
community radio station received in 1999 and 2000. We, however, have no
confirmation that the rebroadcasts are conditions for the grants donated by the
respective organizations. It should, however, be safe to note that Bush Radio's
comparatively low advertising revenue is a financial difficulty waiting to occur
should donor contributions to its budget dwindle in the future.
whose original studio was located in an old container truck that also served as
a clinic for the Zibonele Community Health Center,9
had also “stolen the airwaves” at inception. Radio equipment, constituted of
homemade equipment that included a transmitter, power supply, amplifier, a
mixing console and a small ghetto blaster, were set up under a hospital bed.
Once a week, for about two hours, 20,000 listeners in the Khaylitsha area of
Cape Town received Radio Zibonele's broadcasts. Khayelitsha is a semi-urban
township about 12 miles outside of Cape Town. The township is home to
approximately one million black South Africans who were victims of the
apartheid-era forced removal and displacement policies. The township had and
still has a high rate of illiteracy. Unemployment is reportedly as high as 80%
(Nell and Shapiro, 2001).
Radio Zibonele became legal when it secured a license on August 2, 1995.
Currently, Radio Zibonele's audience approximates 120,000 (Gumucio Dagron, 2001;
Siemering, Fairbairn and Rangana, 1998). As confirmed in its mission, Radio
Zibonele is run by
A group of volunteers
with diverse skills who … formed a community radio station owned, managed
and programmed by the community of Khayelitsha. Our concern is to enhance the
quality of life through improving the health standards of our people. All
those we serve are affected by poor health and poor environmental conditions.
Radio Zibonele is committed to sharing skills and information through honest
process, hereby empowering the community of Khayelitsha for a better life (Siemering,
Fairbairn, and Rangana, 1998, p. 48).
Operated by nine full-time
staff members and between 40 and 70 volunteers, Radio Zibonele broadcasts
exclusively in isiXhosa, the dominant language of the Khayelitsha community. A
board of directors10
whose membership is drawn from the community manages the radio station.
Radio Zibonele currently offers a five-day menu of programs that are extensively
community focused and predominantly talk radio. The station does not broadcast
on Tuesdays and Thursdays because the facility is used for production on those
two days. Each broadcast day begins and ends with prayer offered for the health
and unity of the community. Given Radio Zibonele's location and affiliation to
the Community Health Center, primary health care has remained the cornerstone of
the programs offered. All of Radio Zibonele's health programs enjoy the direct
input of health workers at the local Community Health Center. Health workers and
residents of the community collaborate with producers at the radio station to
craft the content and format of each program. Among the outcomes of the creative
collaboration are health songs, role-plays, storytelling and poetry that combine
to encourage precautions and healthy practices. Specific health programs are
focused on women, children and senior citizens. The radio station also provides
publicity to the activities of the Community Health Center, with which it
maintains close affiliation.
Over time, Radio Zibonele's programs have expanded to youth, life skills issues,
literacy, sports, and religious programs. Local and national news intersperse
the menu of programs. The radio station is also popular for its weekly broadcast
of trendy music. The station's only international program is International
Top-20 Countdown that is broadcast on Saturdays between 7:00 and 9:00 PM.
The program, located just before Party Time, another music program, plays
the top-20 records of non-South African artists. We were unable to confirm the
station's modality for rating the records selected. When their time slots are
combined, Top-20 and Party Time offer four uninterrupted hours of
music that rounds out Saturday programs.
Radio Zibonele has come a long way from the early days when its programs were
broadcast once a week on an annual budget of R1,500. Currently and unlike Bush
Radio, Radio Zibonele relies more on advertising income than on donor funding.
The radio station's un-audited income statement for the year that ended May 31,
showed a gross income of R775,352. A sizeable portion of that income (R737,291
or 95%) accrued from advertising placed by local businesses and agencies. Only
R12,039 (or 1.5%) of its income were donations and grants. The grants were in
fact non-monetary training and equipment subsidies. Training and equipment are
two key areas in which Radio Zibonele has consistently lacked budgetary
allocations. In 1994 and 1995, the station was awarded financial support by the
National Progressive Primary Health Care Network's (NPPHCN) media training
center. The award enabled some of Radio Zibonele's staff to undergo intensive
training and capacity development. The Open Society Foundation for South Africa
(OSF-SA) also awarded a grant that enabled Radio Zibonele to purchase equipment
that replaced the homemade and progressively inadequate one used at its
inception. Reportedly, Radio Zibonele became financially self-sustainable in
Community members in the Khayelitsha area are involved in Radio Zibonele in
multiple ways beyond their membership on the board of directors and their
participation as volunteers. A phone-in program encourages the community to
evaluate radio programs and ask questions about issues ranging from station
management to township affairs. A City of Tygerberg slot on Sundays
allows community members to ask questions of councilors and officials of the
township. Annually, Radio Zibonele organizes a program summit to which it
invites community members that include non-governmental organizations and other
organizations in the station's target area. Summit participants are encouraged
to express their opinion on the nature and quality of programs and are invited
to participate in program development. Resolutions passed at the end of each
summit supply management with programmatic and related problems to solve between
annual summits, (Gumucio Dagron, 2001; Nell and Shapiro, 2001).
Though there is indication that Radio Zibonele has conducted an impact
assessment of its programs, we had no access to the findings. We, however, used
an indirect yardstick for measuring the impact of Radio Zibonele in the
Khayelitsha area. For instance, there has been an increase in broadcasting time
since the station debuted. Initially, the station's program was broadcast every
Tuesday morning for about two hours. Audience demand, solicited through Radio
Zibonele's weekly phone-in program and the annual program summit, increased
broadcast time to three days a week for five hours per day. Currently, and also
in response to communal demand, Radio Zibonele broadcasts five days per week for
nineteen hours per day.
Among Radio Zibonele's successes are its capstone programs on health and
environmental awareness. Beyond assisting wider distribution of health programs
in its target area, many of Radio Zibonele's outreach programs emphasize the
direct connection between caring for the environment and good health.
Periodically, Radio Zibonele organizes a clean up campaign for which it solicits
donations of trash bags, gloves, a dump truck and drinks for participants.
Independent sources affirm that one of the successful campaigns attracted the
participation of about eight thousand people on a Saturday morning (Nell and
A number of connected challenges have, however, daunted Radio Zibonele's ability
to grow faster than it has. One such challenge is an ongoing desire to extend
its coverage to areas beyond Khayelitsha to include Philippi, Langa, Nyanga, and
Gugulethu. Radio Zibonele has been unable to secure the approval and licensing
of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). There is potential for
increasing advertising revenue in Radio Zibonele's plan to extend its coverage
area. Such a revenue increase should allow the radio station to budget for
training so that the sizeable but predominantly illiterate volunteers could
receive professional training in broadcast journalism. Currently, a lot of hours
are expended by staff members in training a volunteer crew with a high level of
Going by our review of participatory communication, a community radio at its
utilitarian best should primarily be geared toward the empowerment of community
members who would also be CO-owners, CO-planners, CO-producers and CO-performers
in the statement of communal issues. Broadcasting in a participatory environment
should differ significantly from centralized broadcasting. While the latter
deals with relatively passive audiences, the former interacts with actors whose
voices are included in program content and radio station administration. Among
other outcomes, broadcasting in a participatory environment should enable a
community's ability to restore cultural pride, self-esteem, and identity.
The litmus test
In what ways do the roles and associations between political actors, the sample
community radio stations and their respective publics exemplify a participatory
environment? Given the history of the structure of broadcasting in South Africa,
our profile of Bush Radio and Radio Zibonele indicates that a significant
alternation of power and control over information is well underway in the target
Though the two radio stations operate in different geographical locations,
contend with demographically unique target audiences and have varying financial
sources and resources, their respective community members are actively engaged
in message creation, message dissemination and station administration. The
participation of ordinary folk in the process may not only have altered
hierarchical roles but may have demystified the complexities of mass
communication for the benefit of the respective communities. Also, the two
stations' programmatic mediation between listeners and political actors should
reduce political disconnection and empower the communities in the process. With
the community members' level of engagement in the creation of radio messages,
role assignation is directly opposed to that characteristic of centralized
public communication systems.
The running success of Bush Radio, Radio Zibonele and that of others serving
many of the rural and semi-urban communities in South Africa have combined to
alter the apartheid era monopoly of the airwaves by the state-owned SABC.
Besides diversifying the airwaves, an important yardstick in its own rights,
more that sixty-five communities appear to have gained the ability to speak and
“hear” content, context, passion and pain in the words and terms used by
kinsfolk (Gumucio Dagron, 2001). Also, more than sixty-five previously excluded
communities are now able to exercise the urge, if not all of the resources, to
participate in social dialogue.
What are the notable dividends of participatory communication in the communities
served by Bush Radio and Radio Zibonele? In the absence of an independent impact
assessment or audience analysis carried out in the target communities, the
latter question is difficult to address in specific detail. There is, however,
operational evidence that both stations provide avenues for the dissemination of
information relevant to the realities of the communities' daily experiences. In
addition, both radio stations are open to the communities' continual evaluation
of the programs aired. Also, our sample radio stations provide opportunity for
members to learn the political norms needed to negotiate with the new
multiracial democratic culture. Each facilitates feedback to governments and
officials at different levels. There is potential in this participatory
environment for these previously excluded communities to find the means of
restoring cultural pride, self-esteem and identity. The duplication of the
latter possibility in more than sixty-five communities around the vast Republic
of South Africa should amount to the reawakening of a previously silent
The ability of communities in South Africa to appropriate the financial
management of radio stations represents the single most important challenge
facing the evolving sector. Our review of the sample stations' budget finds them
at two ends of the financial continuum. While Bush Radio draws a significant
part of its income from local and international donors, Radio Zibonele relies
predominantly on advertising. Though Bush Radio is currently able to meet its
operational needs, the radio station is evidently not as self-sustaining as
Radio Zibonele is. There may be a long-term problem in Bush Radio's financial
base should donors' grants dwindle.
The place of donors
Given that the shortage of funding is often used to justify the centralized
broadcasting paradigm, participatory broadcasting should be realistic enough to
leave room for third- party and non-governmental assistance with funding. The
operative condition should, however, build enough tolerance into the budgetary
assistance process to allow the recipient community radio stations to eventually
appropriate the financial management of the outlets.
Remarkably, South Africa's fledgling community radio sector has attracted the
interest of a consortium of local and international donors whose funds have
sponsored start-up budgets, training and the purchase of broadcast equipment.
The Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA)12
is credited with having given the utmost support to the sector. Between 1995 and
2000, OSF-SA gave grant support of about R 15 million to community radio
stations. A sizeable part of the grants went to equipment purchase, planning and
development, program production and training. Both Bush Radio and Radio Zibonele
have been beneficiaries of the grants. Uniquely, the OSF-SA has a two-pronged
training emphasis. One training program supports innovative and seminally
important interventions while another supports human resource capacity
development. Though the OSF-SA uses a hands-on approach that includes ongoing
and non-financial support, its modus operandi includes stepping back at a point
when self-sustenance is realistically expected (Nell & Shapiro, 2001).
When the donor steps aside, the expectation is that the recipient radio station
would have the readiness to appropriate the management of the radio station.
Whether or not enough tolerance time is built into the enabling process could be
contested. However, given that cross-media ownership is not a possibility in
this sector the running concern is whether or not community radio stations with
financial constraints will falter when donors such as OSF-SA steps back.
Survivors left in the sector may be radio stations in communities that are able
to sustain the operational budget with advertising revenue. A possible outcome
of this development may be that some stations will lose focus or totally abandon
the idea of community radio by converting into commercial stations. Though the
latter possibility defeats the purpose, perhaps a crucial question to pose is
whether or not community radio stations should exist in localities that lack the
potential and/or ability to appropriate the process of maintaining them.
Evidently, there are creative ways of staying afloat. In its early days, Bush
Radio shared frequency with another station until the other shut down its
operations (Gumucio Dagron, 2001). We, however, agree with stakeholders such as
Ibrahim (1999) who shared that state funding as an alternative will at best
compromise the very notion and character of community radio.
South Africa's broadcasting sector may have undergone the most far-reaching
reforms following state rationalizations in the early 1990's (Giffard, de Beer
and Steyn, 1997). Four interconnected factors -- the de-institutionalization of
apartheid, the introduction of multiracial democracy, the decentralization of
the broadcasting system and the accompanying empowerment of rural communities -
are responsible for the rise of community radio in South Africa.
Though the inability to survive donors' largess may regrettably clean the stable
of financially weak stations, the evolution of the community radio phenomenon in
South Africa represents a remarkable landmark. On the other hand its successful
take-off in South Africa has proven that state-owned radio operations can be
decentralized when the central government is willing (see Olorunnisola, 1997).
On the other hand the success stories among South Africa's budding community
radio stations should serve as models for duplication in other African
countries. Certainly, there are cautionary lessons to be learnt from the
financial constraints that may be faced in the absence of non-governmental
donors' participation in the sector. South Africa's ongoing experiment has,
however, verified that African governments do not have to solely bear the cost
of extending radio services to and engaging disenfranchised rural and semi-urban
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1 Anthony A.
Olorunnisola (Ph.D. Howard University, 1994), is Assistant Professor of Media
Studies at the Pennsylvania State University at University Park. His research
interests include the cultural aspects of international and development
communication and media roles in transitional democracies.
These terms were used interchangeably in the parlance of apartheid. Some have
argued that the terms “non-white” and “non-European” are derogatory
given that they emphasize the attributes that blacks do not and cannot have. The
use of the terms in this paper are reportorial and without prejudice.
Radio Zibonele was issued a formal license in 1995. At the time of writing Radio
Zibonele was active in service of residents of Khayelitsha, broadcasting on
In broad terms, public broadcasting refers to service provided by a statutory
body, usually state-funded but publicly owned. Commercial broadcasting refers to
private broadcasting service operated for profit and controlled privately by
independent commercial groups and individuals. Community broadcasting refers to
service not for profit, owned and controlled by a particular community under an
association, trust or foundation. In some instances it can be owned by
non-governmental organizations working in communities.
Many South African university campuses served as outposts of activist wings of
liberation movements during the apartheid years.
South Africa has a strong Indian population.
The University of the Western Cape played host to the history making radio
station. Bush Radio got its name from the University's nickname, “Bush
College.” At its inception in 1960, the University of the Western Cape was
located several miles away from the nearest settlement and had mostly been
surrounded by bush.
Zibonele is isiXhosa for self-reliance.
The Zibonele Community Health Center was one of the community-based programs set
up in partnership with the community of Griffith Mxenge, the Child Health Unit,
the Community Health Department and the Student's Health and Welfare
Organization of the University of Cape Town (UCT).
The present 10-person board meets weekly and is primarily focused on budgetary
issues and the maintenance of station policy.
Income statements, audited and un-audited were not available for prior or
Open Society Foundation of South Africa has a global mission of supporting
freedom of statement, diversity and open media. Other donors active in the
community radio sector include the British Council, the Communication Assistance
Foundation (CAF), the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS), the Kaiser Family
Foundation, the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA), and the
Swedish International Development Agency.
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