NCRF Northern Cape restores broadcasting services to De Aar. 2018/01/20

Radio Ulwazi a community radio station in De Aar (Pixley Ka Seme District Municipality) is one of the six member stations of NCRF Northern Cape. De Aar is a town in the Northern Cape, South Africa. It has a population of around 42,000 inhabitants.

It is the second-most important railway junction in the country[1], situated on the line between Cape Town and Kimberley. The junction was of particular strategic importance to the British during the Second Boer War. De Aar is also a primary commercial distribution centre for a large area of the central Great Karoo. Major production activities of the area include wool production and livestock farming. The area is also popular for hunting, although the region is rather arid. De Aar is also affectionately known as “Die SES” deriving its nickname from the six farms that have surrounded De Aar since the 1900.

Radio Ulwazi broadcasts in Afrikaans, English and Isixhosa and was established in 2005.

The Emthanjeni Local Municipality (De Aar) availed one of the municipality’s buildings to house the administration and studios of the station at no cost. This unlike many other community radio stations in the province lifted a burden of the cost of rent/bond off the shoulders of the board of Radio Ulwazi. Over and above this, the municipality exempted Radio Ulwazi from paying for basic services. This indeed is a good story for the advancement of community broadcasting and the local municipality must be applauded.

For any traditional radio station to reach the listeners the key component besides the broadcasting equipment is the transmission system. Without a proper transmission system the signal from the broadcast studio cannot reach the listeners and thus will render such radio station useless. Radio Ulwazi’s transmission system is located around 5 kilometres from their premises at a site owned by the SABC (South African Broadcasting Services). Radio Ulwazi is a signal self-providing broadcaster and does not rely on the services of SENTECH which as recent as April 2018 switched off over 10 community radio stations for non-payment of signal distribution costs. The premises where the transmitters of Radio Ulwazi are situated are fairly easily accessible by community members and because of their distance from the main centre access can be gained easily without detection.

In October 2017, Radio Ulwazi’s transmission system was vandalised and some of the equipment stolen. This immediately took Radio Ulwazi off air. This meant that the voice of those who were relying on the station to share and receive information was immediately shut. This did not only shut down the voices of the listeners, it also meant that the station could not broadcast advertisements that might have been booked by its clients. This also meant that the staff of the station had to be at home which meant loss of income. The station is in a semi-rural area and with no major businesses investing on the station, this meant that the income of the station is always low and no emergencies financial plan is in place. The cost to repair and replace the equipment vandalised or stolen was estimated at around R20.000 by local suppliers. This for a station that basically relies on a handful of advertisers and campaigns booked by the NCRF Northern Cape for various government departments, was a lot of money. The station’s plea to locals to assist by tracking the perpetrators and for local business to assist with the costs fell on deaf ears.

Mr Sinethemba Ncalu (Station Manager of Radio Ulwazi) brought their plight to the attention of the NCRF Northern Cape. This was after two weeks of being off air and of trying to raise funds for the repairs. The NCRF Northern Cape immediately responded by sending one of the technicians of the NCRF Northern Cape to De Aar to do a proper assessment of the damage. This was to ensure that any intervention must be all encompassing but must restore the signal distribution without further delay. The NCRF Northern Cape, Provincial Secretary, Mr Thabang Pusoyabone, says “for us it was important that we do our own assessment and not only rely on the local suppliers in De Aar, who are generally not experts in signal distribution and the dynamics of radio broadcasting signal and this is why we immediately dispatched one of very experienced technicians from the provincial office to do a determination of the extent of the damage and to advise us on the intervention”.

Pusoyabone says the communities of De Aar were left poorer by the act of vandalism and that in a free democratic society there should never be a radio station that goes off air because of criminality, sabotage or lack of resources.

The report back by the technician was that the damage was necessitating that the entire transmission system be sent to Cape Town as in the Northern Cape there were no experts that are able to repair the system. New additional equipment was to be purchased as well. The NCRF Northern Cape arranged the delivery to Cape Town, the purchase of what was needed and the cost of repair. The NCRF Northern Cape technician was again dispatched to De Aar to do the installation work of the repaired system and Radio Ulwazi was back on air after almost a month of inactivity.

The jubilant Station Manager of Radio Ulwazi, Mr Sinethemba Ncalu, said that the NCRF Northern Cape was an organisation that he believes every station in the province must affiliate to. He said “when we were desperate and not knowing where to go to, the NCRF Northern Cape came to our rescue indeed like a big brother, who has the best interest of the community radio sector in the province at heart”. Ncalu said that this was the second time in two years that their transmission system was vandalised and the damage this time around was bigger and had more negative impact on their operations and the trust some of the advertisers were starting to have on the station as a marketing platform. He said that the short term plan is to move their transmission system from the unsecured premises to avoid a repetition of this problem. He says that all like-minded organisations and government institutions that benefit in different ways to the service rendered by Radio Ulwazi as a link between government and communities as well as businesses and communities must join hands to ensure a permanent solution to their current challenges including lack of funding to grow the station which impact on the intended qualitative output through programming and projects.

Get In Touch
Cell : 0788 9372 93
Office : 054 – 332 1775/054 – 331 3245
Fax : 054 – 332 1775
Physical Address : 03 Robinson Street, Upington, 8800
Web : www.ncrfnortherncape.org.za

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To contact the NCRF NC Chairperson email : chairperson@ncrfnortherncape.org.za

To contact the NCRF NC Secretary email : secretary@ncrfnortherncape.org.za