There were times today at Radio Days Jo’burg when I thought my head might explode. Not literally, of course, but metaphorically as I found myself trying to understand ideas, concepts, and life situations well beyond my normal frame of reference.
During a morning break, for example, I was chatting once again with a lovely woman who I’ve got to know over the last few days. I can’t remember how the conversation got around to the complexities of language, identity and national borders, but she did her best to explain some of the complexities of this part of the world to me. She explained that her clan name occurs in several different countries (not just in South Africa), that tradition means she can and cannot marry some people, and that rivers and mountains which often define national borders make little sense in this part of the world.
As complex as all that was, the two most powerful presentations I attended today were, coincidentally enough, given by the people I sat with over breakfast over the last few days. Over breakfast we’ve chatted in a combination of French and English, as Jacques is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Monique is from Madagascar. When I say “combination of French and English” what I really mean is Jacques spoke no English, I spoke no French, and Monique did her best to keep the conversation flowing.
In her presentation today she explained the shortcomings of the media in her country, where there’s only one national radio station and a multitude of smaller radio stations (mostly run by church organisations). Her country is overwhelmingly poor, there’s little in the way of “civil society” in a Western sense (though she argued there was a different type of civil society there), and there’s heavy censorship of the media both officially and unofficially. She explained today how 80 of Madagascar’s radio stations had been closed down since 2010, with intimidation, threats, and the gaoling of journalists all being fairly common. Her main goal at the moment is to revitalise the radio academy there as a means of improving journalism and independent thought in her country. When I asked her if there was the possibility of support from people from Madagascar who may have moved away, she told me there was a significant diaspora from Madagascar (especially in France), but that she felt the solutions should come from at home, especially from the students.
He explained the difficulties of being “independent” in a country where there were civil war exists. He talked about how you need to adapt to such a situation, and explained they no longer do live phone calls to air because of the “risk” to those involved.
There was also a very powerful presentation by Dika Khesa, a radio station manager at Karabo FM in the Orange Free State part of South Africa. He told a very descriptive story about how his radio station was overtaken by people during a period of civil unrest when forty people in his community died/were killed. He described that on one hand he had the broadcasting authority in South Africa wanting to shut his station down, but on the other hand, had to deal with a large group of drunken people invading his radio station.
Also today there was a really interesting discussion this morning about radio in Mozambique. In particular, I was really interested and moved by the story of Zenzele Ndebele, who described how he and others had been running a radio station “without a licence” for ten years. He explained how they make a daily radio program which they distribute in a variety of ways, ranging from Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud, to having the program played in cafes, and distributing CDs by couriers around the larger cities of Mozambique.
As I listened to these stories I began to think how comparatively trivial was the presentation I’m preparing to make tomorrow at the conference about Australia’s experiences with digital radio. Yet I guess that’s what makes the conference so interesting in some ways – the contrasting experiences and many different stories to be told.
Later in the afternoon, I was invited to be today’s “International Guest” on Kaya FM, a local radio station here in Johannesburg. When the producer, Ernest, greeted me, he explained that the daily segment aimed to focus on South Africans working abroad and on people visiting South Africa. Their interest in me was as an international delegate attending Radio Days Jo’burg. Having listened to the station over the last few days, I knew this wasn’t going to be the most in-depth I’d ever done. The presenter, Mo-G told me Australia was the first country outside of South Africa that he had ever visited. “It was 1998”, he told me, “…and I was playing rugby”. I really enjoyed doing the interview very much, and the staff at the radio station were very warm and welcoming.