ZACRAS-Zimbabwe’s community radio stations in waiting.
By John Masuku
HARARE, Zimbabwe: ZACRAS (Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations) is a grouping in which countrywide community radio initiatives-not yet licensed to go on air- have joined hands to lobby the government for the loosening of the tight broadcasting laws and generally to advance the cause of community radio countrywide through conceptual and technical training. Community radios worldwide are largely seen as a means of education, self expression and communication while also promoting the community‟s values, history, music and oral tradition.
Although Zimbabwe got its political independence from British colonialism in 1980 its constitutional claims of being a democracy have been dented by government‟s failure to facilitate the licensing of private players including community radios on the electronic media scene, where the state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) has had the monopoly of the airwaves even long after the advent of majority rule in 1980. Zimbabwe still lags behind most of its neighbors like South Africa, Zambia and Malawi who opened up airwaves long ago and have witnessed the flourishing of community radio stations and huge strides in the broadcasting industry.
In 2001 the government enacted the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) after privately owned Capital Radio successfully challenged ZBC‟s monopoly in the Supreme Court. BSA brought about the establishment of the regulatory board the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) which has not licensed a single private station ever since. The act acknowledges community broadcasting as a service that can be provided in Zimbabwe but states that licences shall be granted only to individuals who are citizens and resident in the country. It further says that no licence shall be granted to a broadcasting service that is wholly or partly funded by foreign donations or contributions. In the act a foreign donation refers to one that is made by a person who is not a permanent resident or citizen of the country. Also excluded from such ownership are many Zimbabweans now based in the Diaspora due to the country‟s economic hardships. Such a stringent law makes it extremely difficult to establish community radio stations in Zimbabwe, considering that most livelihoods are now sustained by donor funding, meager government handouts and the incomes of relatives based outside the country‟s borders.
“At the inaugural meeting held on December 6 2003 Radio Dialogue of Bulawayo was
the only fully developed member of the proposed ZACRAS. In other cities and towns, residents had started setting up initiatives within their localities, with the assistance of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) which advocates for media diversity and plurality. In fact the representatives of these initiatives met with MISA, the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) and the Media and Journalism faculty at the National University of Science and Technology to form the association” said Chris
Mhike, ZACRAS chairperson.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the African Charter on broadcasting which serves as a blueprint for policies and laws determining the future of broadcasting and information technology in Africa.
States the charter: “Community broadcasting is broadcasting which is for, by and about
the community, whose ownership and management ism representative of the community,
which pursues a social development agenda, and which is non profit. There should be a
clear recognition, including by the international community, of the difference between
decentralized public broadcasting and community broadcasting.”
Potential community broadcasters under the banner of ZACRAS are hopeful that
Zimbabwe‟s airwaves will be opened up very soon and their current initiatives will be on
air with a variety of programmes beneficial to their communities. In 2004 BAZ called on
applicants for a free-to-air narrowcasting license excluding community broadcasting and
no-one „qualified‟. These initiatives are driven by number of factors emanating from
socio-political environment and various community needs. For example the well
established and equipped Radio Dialogue FM, based in Zimbabwe‟s second capital city,
Bulawayo seeks to provide a channel of communication on the economic, political, social,
cultural and developmental issues relevant to the community of the city and its environs.
“Since 2000 Radio Dialogue has been raising awareness on he importance of community
radio to the residents of Bulawayo. This is done using the broadcasting equipment as
both recording studio for local artists and a production studio for pre-recorded audio
programmes on topical issues that are produced with and distributed to the community on
cassettes and compact discs. All Radio Dialogue activities are aimed at empowering the
residents of Bulawayo and promoting development through radio” explained Nigel
Johnson, Radio Dialogue‟s station manager. Community Radio Harare (CORAH), an initiative based in the capital has three main
programme areas, the media and communications campaign, which strives to link
CORAH with local, regional and international media channels. CORAH‟s vision is to be
on air soon with exciting programmes about life in the capital city very soon.
Wezhira Community Radio based in the south eastern town of Masvingo intends to
provide a broadcasting service that will accommodate the whole community and
promote domestic tourism.
Kumakomo (Within the mountains) is the name of the community radio initiative of the
country‟s scenic eastern highlands. It has been welcomed even by senior members of the
ruling Zanu(PF) party who normally dismissed any donor-funded projects and being
agents of imperialists.
“Kumakomo Community Radio intends to take the form of its vast community in
character, and content and be the common meeting point for all tribes focusing on
empowering them to develop their community and preserve their cultural values. When it
eventually broadcast live on the airwaves Kumakomo will strive to maintain the editorial
independence and make the Manicaland community mirror itself” said Chengetai
Murimwa the station‟s information officer. Other ZACRAS members waiting for Zimbabwe‟s final opening up its airwaves to
private players are Nkabazwe, Kwelaz and Hwange community radios based in the
midlands and north western parts of the country. At the moment these community radio
initiatives are linking their communities and the nation at large through frequent
newsletters and road shows which are meant to motivate members.
Said Kholiwe Nyoni, a community radio expert and advocate of community –based
media in general, “ We all wait with fervent hope that real community radio will hit
Zimbabwe‟s airwaves very soon. The key characteristics of community radios are that
they are decentralized and situated within reach of intended beneficiaries. They play a
critical social change agenda since they are not driven purely by commercial or political
motivations but involved in offering a platform for community participation and
John Masuku, a media consultant and radio trainer writes about the industry from
Harare, Zimbabwe. E-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org