By Nomalanga Moyo
SW Radio Africa
29 April 2014
Traditional leaders have added their voices to the on-going calls to the government to free up the airwaves and license community radio stations.
The leaders, who included chiefs and headmen from across the country, made the call at a conference hosted by the Zimbabwe Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) in Bulawayo on Monday.
They said locally-based radio stations would help foster unity, promote development and cohesion within their respective communities. They added that having community-specific radio stations would enable them to preserve their respective cultures, languages and help foster unity.
Headman Chisumbanje from Manicaland, said a Chisumbanje-specific station would be an ideal outlet to discuss the joblessness that’s blighting the community.
The headman said while the commissioning of the Chisumbanje Ethanol Plant located in the area had raised the community’s hopes, locals had not benefited much as the majority of the employees there were outsiders.
“If we had a community radio station, we would address the issue using this medium,” NewsDay quoted Chisumbanje as telling fellow delegates.
Speaking to this station, ZACRAS vice-chairman Prince Zwide Khumalo said the aim of the meeting was to involve chiefs in the campaign and to explain to them how they can benefit from community-based radio stations.
“We discussed how radio stations can be used to share information about farming methods, or to announce vaccinations programmes for example.
“If each community had its own station it will be easier for leaders to mobilise their communities by simply making an announcement on local radio,” Khumalo said.
He added that communities should be able to locally generate and share messages on issues of immediate concern to them.
Khumalo further lamented government’s lack of political will to ensure that communities have channels through which to articulate their issues.
He called on the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe to licence community stations, and criticised the government for its stance on who should fund them, which he said was retrogressive.
“The government has said community radio stations should not be funded by external donors, including by Zimbabweans based in the diaspora.
“Such policies make it hard for communities to set up radio initiatives. This violates Sections 61-2 of the constitution which guarantee citizens the right to access information and to freedom of expression,” Khumalo said.
Another ZACRAS official, Kudzai Kwangwari, also told SW Radio Africa that by denying would-be broadcasters licences, the government was breaking the law.
“Neighbouring countries such as Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa have vibrant community radio stations and it is a pity that our government continues to see these crucial community initiatives as threats rather than development partners.
“People should be able to participate and contribute in national discourses through locally available channels and this is what democracy means”, Kwangari added.
Regionally, Zimbabwe lags far behind in the liberalisation of airwaves, with countries like South Africa and Zambia way ahead. South Africa has nearly 120 community radio stations and Zambia had its first in 1994.
Last month, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo claimed the delay in issuing licenses was due to the limitations in the broadcasting spectrum, allocated by the International Telecommunication Union.
Press freedom campaigners say this is not true, and blame the ZANU PF government’s repressive culture which has seen it licensing only those stations linked to the regime.
Without any independent community radio stations, the responsibility to provide an alternative to State media propaganda has fallen on exiled media such as SW Radio Africa and Studio 7. Zimbabwe has some of the world’s most repressive media laws which the ruling party uses regularly to persecute journalists.