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The perils and joys of running a community radio station in South Africa

As the three or so people who regularly follow my Radio Survivor posts know, I keep an eye on community radio stations in Africa. It is more complicated and in many ways more interesting to run such operations in various African countries. It is also more difficult to follow these projects from my basement office here in San Francisco, much less provide some kind of context for their endeavors.

For example, I’m trying to figure out the context for the brouhaha that took place at Madibeng FM radio in the town of Brits, South Africa some weeks ago. Basically around the third week of July the community station scheduled a discussion about the disappointment some have expressed with the nearby Bapo ba Mogale tribe’s land leasing arrangement with the the Lonmin platinum mining company. Among the grievances: that the Bapo ba Mogale Traditional Council cut a deal in which the tribe is paid in stock shares rather than royalties, potentially short changing the community. Others charge that the tribe’s leaders have never really disclosed the content of the agreement. And there are allegations that a royal palace of some sort was initiated with public funds. All in all, the complaints focus on the probability that your average Bapo resident isn’t properly sharing in the Lonmin largesse.

"Ambassadors" outside Madibeng FM on July 21

“Ambassadors” outside Madibeng FM on July 21

So Nick Motloung (see above) the General Manager of Madibeng FM thought he would have a few concerned Bapo members over for a chat over the airwaves with some of the tribe’s leaders. The next thing everyone knew, Bapo’s Investments CEO drove in around 300 of his “ambassadors,” basically unemployed kids, to surround the station and force it to cancel the discussion. The following day three busloads of Bapo combatants showed up again, presumably just to make sure everyone was clear on keeping their mouths shut about the whole thing.

Radio Rights WatchHere are some of the Madibeng GM’s comments on the ordeal (I’m assuming that ‘Mr. X’ is probably that investments CEO):

“On the 21st July 2016, about 30 to 40 community members marched to the radio station seeking evidence relating to all the allegations made against ‘Mr.X’. The station manager and his team, upon seeing the mob locked themselves up inside the studio. The group of people stood outside the building for a while, singing and chanting outside the building as well as the waiting room of the radio station.

According to the information, ‘Mr. X’ is the man imposing himself as the attorney, the agent as well as the tribal council’s spokesperson. The radio station had a number of live broadcasts after hearing the pleas by community members bemoaning the fact that the conditions of the village is not improving even though there are mines surrounding the area. These arose after some of the community members leaked a new information revealing that the four -CK [stock?] certificates of companies servicing the village of Bapo Ba Mogale contained some irregularities. The directors of those companies are not members residing in Bapong nor members from the royal family. After a long tiresome investigations by the hawks and the public protector, there has not been any fruitful outcome. Recently a new information was uncovered and is now in the hands of the respective departments.”

Madibeng in Brits

I think this is where Madibeng FM is located.

Now for some context. First of all, it’s very difficult to figure out what is going on on a day to day level at Madibeng FM, since it has no website, appears to have no online stream, and only sporadically posts comments on Facebook or Twitter. But the station is located in Brits, South Africa, which has a population of around 50,000 mostly black African people. Brits is located in the North West province (one of South Africa’s nine provinces) under the jurisdiction of the Madibeng municipality.

The Google maps photo to the above left, taken in August 2010, is the last known Google shot of where the station Madibeng FM is situated. Brits is fairly close to Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, as well as Johannesburg. It is also situated near the Madibeng Local Municipality which sits at the foot of the Magaliesberg Mountain Range. There reside the Bapo ba Mogale people in 43 villages that coexist with huge platinum and ferrochrome mining sites on the south west side of the area. The main village is called Bapong, located about ten miles south west of Brits.

This little community radio struggle is happening as South Africa is going through a politically earth shattering election cycle. Across the country, black South Africans have delivered an enormous blow to the African National Congress, the political party that delivered the country from Apartheid and created its modern state in the 1990s. Appalled by what they see as corruption and cronyism, young people are leaving the organization in droves and embracing competitors such as the Democratic Alliance and a smaller party called the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Many voters still appreciate the role that the ANC played in liberating the country. But today they’re focused on fairer taxation, the adequate delivery of utility services, and income inequality. In the municipality of Madibeng, 54 percent of voters supported the ANC, down from almost 75 percent in 2011. Meanwhile a host of smaller political parties, most notably the DA and the EFF, took over 36 percent of the vote.

madibengSo there is obviously an urgent need to discuss taxation and service issues, to which Madibeng FM is responding, and an entrenched strata of administrators and politicians who would very much like those conversations not to happen. Hence the standoff of July 21 at Madibeng FM.

That station isn’t the first to find itself in the crosshairs of a political crisis. In Zambia a regional government official tried to close down a community radio station’s board last year because he did not like the political affiliations of some of its members. When this failed the government still tried to block discussion programs at six other community radio operations. Last year Botswana’s government pondered whether to accelerate its community radio service, but became mired in a debate over whether such stations encourage “tribalism.”

Looks like Madibeng FM tried to take tribalism head on last month and ran into a heap of trouble for it. From the looks of that Twitter post I embeded up top, it appears that General Manager Nick is trying to keep the conversation going where and when he can. I’ll keep following that situation as best I can from here.



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