Bush Radio is Africa’s oldest community radio station project based in Cape Town, South Africa.
The idea of Bush Radio started in the 1980’s when community activists and alternative media producers came together to explore ways in which grassroots media could be used for social upliftment and as an alternative voice to the media available under apartheid.
Bush Radio was officially formed in 1992, after two years of community consultations of all aspects of the radio station. After repeatedly applying for a broadcast license to the apartheid government in 1992, Bush Radio then decided to broadcast illegally.
Watch a documentary on Bush Radio called Partial Eclipse by Richard Wicksteed in 1993. It features the illegal broadcast and the police raid on the station:
The response of the apartheid government was to confiscate the transmitter and other equipment, and to arrest and charge the Chairperson of the Board, Mervyn Swarts, and the Co-ordinator, Edric Gorfinkel to the full extent of the law.
Bush Radio members and volunteers organised placard demonstrations calling for the dropping of all charges, as well as the establishment of an “independent authority” to regulate broadcasting in South Africa. After a year of court hearings, the apartheid government dropped the case.
After the first democratic elections in 1994, the new government established the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to regulate broadcasting in South Africa. Bush Radio was then issued with a one-year temporary license on the frequency 89.5FM, sharing the frequency with another radio station. The one-year temporary licenses were intended to be a temporary measure until the IBA was ready to issue four-year permanent licenses.
However, this process took far longer than anyone anticipated. Bush Radio was issued with a four-year permanent community radio license in July 2002 and another four-year licence in 2006. Since then, Bush Radio has been broadcasting for 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
“To ensure that communities who have been denied access to resources take part in producing ethical, creative and responsible radio that encourages them to communicate with each other, to take part in decisions that affect their lives, and to celebrate their own cultures. Through such radio, communities will affirm their own dignity and identity, and promote social responsibility and critical thinking”.
Noam Chomsky described his visit to Bush Radio as follows:
“It was one of the high points of a very exciting and instructive visit, and I was really pleased to have the opportunity to be with you for a few hours.
I would also like to tell you how impressed I was with what I saw and heard at Bush Radio. I have had quite a lot of contact with popular media in the United States, and often elsewhere, and have rarely come across achievements comparable to yours. There is no doubt in my mind that community radio is, in general, one of the most important ways to develop a basis for meaningful functioning democracy. In my own (fairly extensive) experience, I have found abundant evidence to support this conclusion. “
* Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author (Manufacturing Consent etc), and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
What do we do?
Bush Radio’s activities can be divided into four areas:
Broadcasting, Upliftment projects, Scholarship and training programmes, Human Potential Development
Bush Radio is broadcasting 24 hours per day seven days per week. Our programming is summed up by a quotation by Jim Ellinger, who visited the station from the USA.
“I have visited scores of community media groups around the world (100+ cities in 40+ countries/territories since 9/11), and few compare with the great resource provided by Bush Radio to the Cape Town community. Programming in three local languages, Xhosa, Afrikaans and English, with half of the programmers women, the station reflects and promotes the best of the city. It also covers the myriad of social and political issues still facing post-apartheid South Africa”.
b) Upliftment projects:
Bush Radio currently has 23 upliftment projects, ranging from the CREW programme to the Schools HIV and AIDS Education Project (SAEP).
Bush Radio stuck to its activist and social starting point and became more than just a radio station. All our on-air programs are linked with off-air activities. For example the children’s program grew into a continuous educational workshop for youngsters in the age range of 6 to 18 years, and includes the on-air component as well as a homework program, teaching English as a second language, and a lifeskills program. The HIV/AIDS programmes are linked up with educational workshops at schools where we visit two schools a week and raise awareness around HIV and AIDS.
We have a collaborative partnership with the South African Red Cross Society were both organisations go into the townships and raise general awareness. Our Hip Hop music program was the starting point of a formidable curriculum for Hip Hop musicians who want to improve their ability to write meaningful lyrics on HIV and AIDS and other social issues relevant to their age group. Bush Radio, furthermore, started a crèche on its premises to provide young mothers who work in the factories nearby with the possibility to continue employment.
c) Scholarships and training programmes:
Watch a clip on a training project Bush Radio is part of:The third activity of Bush Radio is the scholarships and training programme. Each year, Bush Radio gives scholarships to poor students that have the potential to succeed. Although the scholarships are mostly for journalism students, we have given bursaries to students in other fields.
We formalised the training component in 2000 with the establishment of the Broadcast Training Institute. The BTI offers quality training, with a practical component at an operating radio station. Bush Radio offers various media training, including radio broadcasting, video journalism, drama production, documentary and feature production and radio management
d) Human potential development:
The forth activity of Bush Radio involves the development of the human being from birth to old age. Bush Radio operates a day care centre for children from the ages of 3 months – 2 years. This day care is open not only for Bush Radio staff, but also for people working or living in the area surrounding Bush Radio.
The CREW programme for children aged 6 – 18 years old demystifies radio and media to them, so that they are critical media consumers.
The Alternative Kurriculum Mentoring Youth (Alkemy) programme is an alternative programme for youth (18 – 24) and educates them about political issues, starting from the foundation such as what is philosophy to reading and analysing “The Alchemist”.
These are but a few samples of our human potential development programmes.
Bush Radio operates with a small staff of 5 members, 10 trainees (fluctuates), interns from local and international universities and over 100 volunteers.
The staff and trainees are responsible for the implementation of the weekday programmes (6:00 – 16:00), while volunteers do all the programming as from 16:00. During the weekend, the picture is different as all the on-air presenters are volunteers that offers their time to do these programmes.
Structure of Bush Radio
The community forms the nucleus of the Bush Radio organisation and structure, and is on top and at the bottom of our structure, participating from both the top and bottom. The structure looks as follows:
The annual general meeting is once a year, and elects the Board of Directors. The Board’s role is to oversee the implementation of the policies, identify gaps and do development of the policies, fundraising and providing advice on legal, financial and other matters.
Bush Radio has a monthly Open Forum, which is open to anyone within the community that wants to hear what is happening at Bush Radio. Community members can also make suggestions and recommendations on improvements, critique any aspect of the station that they are unhappy about or even to complement staff on a job well done.
The Managing Director is the link between the staff and the Board, and, with the staff, is responsible for the daily operations of the station.
Volunteers form the backbone of Bush Radio, as they run most of the weekday, and all the weekend programmes.
Bush Radio has diverse sources of income. Advertising forms about 50% of income, but Bush Radio does not accept advertising from alcohol, gambling companies, neither will Bush Radio accepts advertising that is racist, sexist or discriminatory in any way.
Sponsorship for programmes is another source of income, but no sponsorship of news is accepted.
Donors / grants provide income for some of the social upliftment projects such as CREW, our Media Kidocracy Konference (annual) and the School HIV and Aids Education Project.
Other sources of income includes: fundraising, selling of merchandise, training fees, internship fees and service provided, which includes Outside Broadcasting, admin and management fees for projects.
An undeniable boost has been the international recognition of the importance of the work done. Bush Radio carries some of this recognition with particular gratification: the Prince Claus Award for Urban Heroes that it received in 2000 through its Executive Director, Zane Ibrahim, and the second prize (silver medal) in the New York International Radio Festival for a CD of HIVHOP songs (Hip Hop on HIV/AIDS) that was produced in collaboration with Radio Netherlands, in 2001. Bush Radio also received two awards from the Department of Communication in 2005 for Best Provincial Achiever and Best Logistics department, and three awards for quality journalism from the SABC Community Media Awards.