On the second day in Cape Town, I led a field trip to community radio stations. The first stop was Bush Radio, the pioneer of community radio in South Africa.
The 14th in a series of blogs about Semester at Sea, a round-the-world voyage with 600 students. David Mould is the author of Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia (Ohio University Press, 2016) and the upcoming (2109) Monsoon Postcards: Indian Ocean Journeys. Read excerpts at www.davidhmould.com (Travel Blogs) or Facebook /PostcardsFromStanland/
On the second day in Cape Town, I led a field trip to community radio stations. The first stop was Bush Radio, the pioneer of community radio in South Africa. The station was launched during the apartheid era as a cassette exchange at the University of the Western Cape, the all-black institution located so far out of the city that it earned the name Bush University. Volunteers attended African National Congress meetings and protest marches, recorded interviews and produced short features for sale and distribution. When Bush Radio began illegally broadcasting with a small transmitter (shipped in parts by mail from London, then reassembled), police raided the office, seized the equipment and arrested the staff. In a landmark court case, Bush Radio won the right for communities to apply for broadcast licenses, and since 1995 community radio has flourished in South Africa. Bush, which had only three full-time staff but a large and dedicated pool of volunteers, broadcasts 24 hours a day to the Cape Town region. The program mix is eclectic with South African music, news and current affairs, information and discussions on HIV/AIDS, the only gay and lesbian program on air in the region, radio drama, and a children’s radio workshop where primary school children and teenagers learned radio skills and produced their own programs. Bush Radio veterans Brenda Leonard and Adrian Louw told us that “only about 20 per cent of what we do is radio.” For every program on the air, there’s an activity or education program in the community; Bush Radio uses the media of radio and music to attract people, but its real mission is to improve public health, education, life skills, and political participation.
On the same block in the working-class community of Salt River is a different kind of community station. Voice of the Cape (VOC) was established to serve Cape Town’s multi-ethnic Muslim community. Program director Achmat Ryland, who says he learned about radio during a stint at a St. Louis station, described it as a “station with an Islamic ethos.” It is a commercial station, which tries to provide both Muslims and non-Muslims with alternative perspectives on domestic and international news and Islam. As far as I could tell, the station made a sincere effort to provide balanced coverage—with momentum building for the US to invade Iraq, it had Colin Powell, Secretary of State in the Bush administration, on the same program as Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz. although not at the same time. The staff spoke about their desire to show that the teachings of Islam can provide moral guidance for all, especially at a time of world crisis.
Next week: On the road to the Cape