Accepted paper:

Ndebele radio broadcasting, democracy, language and belonging in post-apartheid South Africa


Sekibakiba Lekgoathi (University of the Witwatersrand)

Paper short abstract:

The paper discusses listenership to the SABC's Ikwekwezi FM (Radio Ndebele under apartheid) which still resonates widely with the Ndebele-speaking South Africans today. The station gives a sense of cultural belonging and allows the people on the margins of power in former KwaNdebele homeland and in townships to engage directly in political discourse.

Paper long abstract:

Between 1960 and 1983 the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) launched nine separate African language radio stations through which it sought to propagate the apartheid government's policy of ethnic separatism, or homelands. The last was Radio Ndebele, which was established primarily to foster a distinctive Ndebele ethnic consciousness and to encourage Ndebele-speaking South Africans to perceive of KwaNdebele (the least economically viable of the ten Bantustans) as their ethnic 'home'. In this paper I use both archival sources - written texts and especially the rich but hugely untapped SABC Sound Archive - as well as oral interviews conducted with Ndebele radio presenters and listeners to discuss African language radio broadcasting and listenership in post-apartheid South Africa. I argue that Ndebele radio - now called Ikwekwezi FM - continues to resonate with large numbers of Ndebele-speaking audiences in urban townships and rural villages, particularly the elderly and the illiterate who are still living in the former homeland of KwaNdebele, mainly because it is seen as a medium through which Ndebele language and culture could be mediated and further developed. Many tune into the station to derive a sense of cultural belonging. But most importantly, in post-apartheid South Africa where English has become even more dominant than before, African language radio is proving to be an indispensable medium for deepening democracy and enabling the poor people on the margins of power to engage in political discourse through live talk shows and other forms of cultural programming.

panel W030
Home, lands and homelands in post-apartheid South Africa (EN)