Leroy DzengaHarare – The licensing of community radios in Zimbabwe is an area of sustained contestation.
When the Zimbabwe government commissioned the Independent Media Panel of Inquiry in 2014 to understand the country’s information needs, among the recommendations were establishment of community radio stations.
For years, the suggestions were not acted upon until the entry of the President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led administration which took a stance of national renewal.
President Mnangagwa was pursuing a holistic reform agenda, which involved changing the media landscape for the better, and this paved way for the eventual licensing of community radios.
Community radios are defined as short-range, not-for-profit radio station or channel that caters for the information needs of people living in a particular locality, in the languages and formats that are most adapted to the local context.
The year 2020 saw the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe license a total of three community radio stations in what marked a turnaround, as far as the discourse is concerned.
Among the three early recipients of community radio licenses was Great Zimbabwe University Campus radio.
The is conceptually meant to provide a platform for discussion between the students, the institution and stakeholders.
GZU is a multi-campus institution spread across the whole of Masvingo Province and the radio station helps ensure coherent spread of information.
GZU Campus Radio Director Golden Maunganidze, who is also the National Chairman of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, gave insights into his experience with campus radio from the time they were given the greenlight to operate in May 2020, to date.
“I can confirm that there has been a big gap in the information accessed by communities and the campus radio came and plugged that. When we came in, the only radio stations that were there had a strong commercial interest,” Maunganidze said.
Utilising Media and Cultural Studies students they are training at the institution, the radio station has become the proverbial village court, where issues of different bearings are discussed.
“We have specific programmes that are meant to engage the community, speaking on issues that matter to them like service delivery. We have had instances in which we spoke about matters troubling the community and they were solved almost immediately,” Maunganidze said.
The pandemic context, presented an opportunity for one of the merits of the community radio idea to be put to test.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, people were looking for credible information on the developments to do with community statistics, responses and general updates. We made sure we included the details in our programming and received a lot of good feedback,” said Maunganidze.
He added; “We have artists who have for long failed to gain airtime on national radio, we have played some of them on our community radio and they have been getting opportunities within their locality. We have also engaged legends like Jonah Moyo of Deverangwena Jazz band to give guitar tutoritals, it is something that brings the community back together.”
From his experience, running into a year, Maunganidze believes the model of community radios needs support through proactive policy making meant to ensure they self-sustain and maintain their utility to the areas they serve.
“The way I see it, community radio licenses are a welcome development, any progressive media person should celebrate it. The idea is noble, but there is now need to follow up on progress to capacitate community radios and subsidise purchase of equipment,” said Maunganidze.
He suggested that there should be mechanisms to ensure community based institutions like local authorities support community radios in their catchment area with advertisements.
Great Zimbabwe University radio broadcasts in local languages found in where their audience is found, including Shangaan in Chiredzi.
The coming of community radios and their continued rollout, completed the media circuit in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe is signatory to the 2002 African Charter on Broadcasting which stipulates that African countries` broadcasting systems must have public service, commercial and community.
In radio, the public service existed through stations run by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the commercial stations were those run for profit like Star Fm under the Zimpapers group and the missing link were community radios.
The gap created room for lobby groups which served to remind the country of the need for community radios.
Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) who led the fight, for community radios reflected on their 20 year old journey.
“We commend government for eventually calling for applications for community radio broadcasting and the subsequent licensing. We are pleased that language based stations have been licensed and this will go a long way in uplifting the development of underrepresented communities in the allotted areas,” Zacras chairperson Pearlagia Kapuya said.
Radio is the medium of Africa and the establishment of community radio was well-supported by the people, who were extensively consulted.
“This is a people driven process located right at the centre of the communities represented by the licensed stations. The fact that community stakeholder engagements were held within the communities and also considering that some of these initiatives were already providing alternative platforms of communication is evident enough of readiness,” she said.
Like Maunganidze, Kapuya believes there is need for objective reasoning around sustenance.
“The broadcasting industry is a capital intensive sector especially in terms of high tech equipment, hence a lot of groundwork still needs to be done in this regard. The government through the ministry of info, has financing responsibilities for community radios and we understand there is a fund set aside so we envisage a situation where the fund is put to good use to support CRIs, whilst community members also do their part.”
The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has said that the radio spectrum is finite, so licenses will be issued on an invitational basis in which they release a call for people to submit applications.
As some communities continue to wait for terrestrial radio licenses, online communities blossomed.
Right now the digital space is dominated by Madhorofiya FM.
Dominated by urban grooves music and yesteryear hits, the online radio show has turned into a community where young people scattered across the world in pursuit of the pot of gold reconvene to explore the idea of home.
The brains behind the project, award-winning comedian Mukudzei “King Kandoro” Majoni told The Southern Times Arts that he did not fathom such growth when he conceptualised the platform.
“Madhorofiya FM has grown to become an online community station but it was really born as a result of my love for Zimbabwean radio and all the free time I found myself having since the pandemic started,” he explained the genesis of the seven month journey.
The radio focuses more on past hits, especially the urban grooves era which was the soundtrack to the post millennial era in Zimbabwe. The hunger being shown to create community based platforms is not uncharacteristic, it speaks to a long-standing need.
Scholars like Dr Last Alfandika and Dr Gift Gwindingwe believe the licensing of community radios should be given the due respect it deserves.
“In Africa, radio occupies a vital position in the dissemination of information mainly because of its ubiquitous character; it is still the dominant mass-medium in Africa with the widest geographical reach and the highest audiences … radio plays a vital role in influencing how people understand their environment and interests, and how they perceive themselves,” Gwindingwe and Alfandika say in their academic paper on the subject.
With community radios in Zimbabwe becoming the latest addition to the discursive platter, there is hope that intra-community communications will improve.