Radio in Africa: Publics, cultures, communities

Liz Gunner, Dina Ligaga and Dumisani Moyo, eds., Johannesburg: Wits University Press. 2011. pp. 320, ISBN: 9 781868 145508 (Paperback only)

Original Source and Credit: Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies 34(3): 168–171 © 2013 Institute for Media Analysis in South Africa

Originating from three events held in South Africa between 2005 and 2007, Radio in Africa is a very welcome addition to the fi eld of radio studies, fi lling a gap in the study of this medium for recent and innovative research based on the experiences of the continent. Although the book can obviously not offer in such a format (17 chapters) a fully comprehensive view of the trends of the whole continent – and northern African countries here are a notable exception – it provides radio scholars with very valuable material to position African radio in the global context and advance the research agenda.

Radio has had, and continues to have, a crucial position in the everyday life of Africans, as is well documented by one part of the book, with the other two being dedicated to chapters exploring the role of the medium in the context of popular democracies, and as a mirror of processes of change.

As the book is published in, and originates from, South Africa, unsurprisingly perhaps there are six contributions analysing experiences in a country with a very vibrant radio sector (public and commercial), as well as innovative experiences in the community radio sector. The latter has been observed with great interest by policymakers and practitioners from the rest of the world, and is discussed in depth especially by Coplan, in a very interesting chapter that refl ects on the development of radio in South Africa, by comparing its history to that of other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Elsewhere, Lekogathi reviews the history of Northern Sotho Radio to refl ect on the experience of Radio Bantu between 1960 and 1980, showing how, despite apartheid repression, a number of announcers managed to subvert censorship and use radio as a tool for social change, refusing ‘to lie down and be used as pawns by their SABC puppet masters’ (p.131). The 1970s and the isiZulu language used in radio drama constitute the focus of Gunner’s work, which explores a form that had by then ‘established a large and loyal audience’ (p. 163) in parts of South Africa. Also here, despite the SABC’s efforts to use the genre as ‘a means of controlling a restive, modernising black populace’, it ‘proved a perversely resistant medium and genre’ that ‘produced its own alternative versions of power, which quietly co-existed with the wider public production of apartheid-driven discourse’ (pp. 164–165). Another historical analysis is the chapter authored by Davis and focusing on the African National Congress’ (ANC) radio, its exile, and its allies in the period 1960–1984. Dividing the ANC broadcasts into three periods based on locations within South Africa and, successively, in Tanzania and Angola, he discusses how these were used ‘to project a certain image of themselves to audiences at home, in exile and abroad’ (p. 236), with the latter two aimed at foreign patrons and those based in ANC training camps. In a more contemporary approach, addressing talk radio in Cape Town (with 567MW as case study), Bosch contributes a chapter based on research carried out during the first decade of the 2000s, using public sphere theories to explore the radio station as a space for the formation of public opinion and, more specifically, by demonstrating how 567MW ‘creates a space for the development of a public sphere within the context of deliberative democracy’ in South Africa (p. 198). Finally, Frahm-Arp’s contribution helps the reader to gain insight into the role of religion in radio in the country, through case studies of the Catholic Radio Veritas, Radio Islam, as well as the programme ‘Believe it or not’, broadcast on Radio 702, which questioned all religions from different angles. The chapter shows how different groups approach broadcasting, and expresses ‘the continued importance of religion in the lives of South Africans’ where radio, in conjunction with web and mobile-based communication platforms, is ‘opening up swiftly changing new expressions of religion in a variety of different mediated spaces’ (p. 221)…[See More]

Biographical note

Salvatore Scifo is assistant professor in the Department of Public Relations and Publicity (English) at Maltepe University, Istanbul, Turkey, and a post-doctoral researcher at the Mediated Interaction and Experience Lab (MixLab) at Koc University, Istanbul, Turkey. His research interests include community media studies, media policy and British radio history. E-mail: salvatore.scifo@maltepe.edu.tr