Icasa unplugs Cape Town’s ‘number one’ community radio station

Members of the Khayelitsha community protesting against the imminent closure of Radio Zibonele. All photos by Nobathembu Ndzengu

One of the country’s longest-standing community radios, Zibonele FM in Khayelitsha, faces closure as Icasa says they did not submit their licence renewal application on time.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has raised concerns on what it calls “unfortunate misinformation and misrepresentation of facts that have been spread on various media platforms about the reasons for the imminent closure of Zibonele Community Radio”. This follows a press briefing by the management of the Khayelitsha-based community radio station to announce that Icasa has instructed it to close down on Wednesday this week.

Speaking to journalists and community members who came out to attend the press conference, Zibonele station manager, Mawande Jara said that they did everything by the book and Icasa’s objections to their application were frivolous.

“We submitted our application for renewal in 2018, six months before the expiry date. They raised an issue about us not submitting our founding documents but we pointed out to them that the information that they are looking for is contained in our constitution,” Jara said.

The communications authority has refuted the claim that Radio Zibonele submitted its application for renewal before the expiry date and that the station failed to prove that the application was submitted on time.

“Zibonele FM’s licence expired on 25 October 2018. Unfortunately, Zibonele FM failed to submit the required renewal application for its licence in accordance with section 19(2) of the Electronic Communications Act of 2005. Moreover, Zibonele FM failed to provide proof that its renewal application was submitted to the Authority before the expiry date of the licence,” reads the statement.

“In terms of section 7 of the ECA, no person can provide (or operate) a broadcasting service without a licence. As a result, Zibonele FM is currently broadcasting unauthorised, and Icasa is duly obligated to enforce the law.”

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The Electronic Communications Act, according to Icasa, does not offer the scope to accept late applications. Meanwhile, section 19(2) of the Electronic Communications Act of 2005 requires that those who want to renew their broadcast licenses must apply six months before the expiry date.

“When we didn’t get a response from them or even an acknowledgement of receipt, we continued [broadcasting] and they never contacted us even 16 days after expiry date of our licence. We tried to reach out to them but we noticed that in 2019 our frequency was gazetted. At one stage, they said we didn’t submit the correct documents but we pointed out that the information that they are looking for is contained in our constitution. They said if we are not satisfied then we must go to court. We then lodged an urgent application with the high court. The judge said that the matter was not urgent and that both parties must find ways to resolve the issue and the case was struck off the roll,” Jara explained.

Icasa confirms that the matter was struck off the roll but points out that the legal cost order was
in its favour.

Radio Zibonele currently has 25 learnerships which will be affected by Icasa’s suspension of its broadcast licence.

The 28-year-old community radio station has mobilised community members and political parties, and has asked for the involvement of the minister of communications to mount pressure on Icasa to stop the imminent closure of the radio station. The community members who came out and sang struggle songs outside Radio Zibonele on Friday told Elitsha that the community would be the biggest losers if the station closes down.

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“I came here because I heard that Radio Zibonele is closing down and this would affect us as a community as we get information from listening to the station,” said Thobeka Kwakhe from Town 2.

“The station has been a source of information and contributes to fighting crime,” said community activist, Zizipho Sasa from Site C. She added that the closure of the station would also negatively affect the workers and their families. Radio Zibonele employs 64 workers including presenters and support staff.

“We are number one in the Western Cape and number two nationally when it comes to community radio listenership. We are self-sustainable and have never been taken to the complaints authority [the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa],” said Zweli Nokhatywa, the programmes manager.

“While Icasa is fully committed to promoting the growth of the community radio sector, which plays a
critical role in empowering and giving a voice to our communities, we cannot encourage or permit broadcasting without a licence or illegal use of the radio frequency spectrum,” said the newly-appointed acting chairperson of Icasa, Charley Lewis.

A community meeting is expected to take place at Radio Zibonele on Tuesday.

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