Community Radio is 90% About Community

Community radio is ninety percent about
community and ten percent about radio, according to community radio pioneer Zane
Ibrahim of Capetown.


Community radio is 90% about community and 10% about radio, according to Zane Ibrahim, the founder of Bush Radio in Cape Town. Bush Radio is “The Mother of Community Radio.”

As we drove with Zane and Trudy Kragtwijk, co-director of Baobab Development Services, the consulting service they jointly operate to assist poor communities, to the Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town, South Africa, he said it’s less about radio and more about enabling community to develop, community with purpose. He told us community radio should create the conditions for a poor community to speak to itself so people can make informed decisions about their future.

“When you hear a program discussing gender issues and people talk about it to each other, that’s community radio,” he said. “It’s the community talking to itself.”

Lose the
radio part…
start with
Zane Ibrahim

“Lose the radio part when you start out,” he told us. “The first thing people start with is radio. That’s technology. If you start with technology, before long there is a huge gap between the radio and the community.”

You need to do a sophisticated SWAT analysis. Start with community forums,” he said. “Get community started first.”

Bush Radio, which has been operating since the early 1990s, conducts town hall meetings in various communities, primarily the shanty towns around the city known as townships. In these meetings people are encouraged to share their concerns about their communities and suggest ways to improve the quality of life. This becomes the subject for programming.


Zane and Trudy conduct training workshops to implement this process of community development and to help others to create viable community radio stations. He sees community radio primarily as a vehicle for change. Therefore, he engages the community–children, youth, and adults–through training and skills development before he engages them in radio programming.

“The community has got to believe it is driving the process,” he said. “Technology based communications risks alienating the community. Presenters and programmers cannot alienate the community by failing to speak their language and address their concerns.”

Commercial radio has become impersonal and distant from this concept of community service, he believes. Too much of commercial radio is about celebrity and personality. When that happens, he says, broadcasters cease to serve the community and become subject to the demands of advertisers and the egos of the presenters.

For this reason, Bush Radio monitors its programs and trains its presenters to concentrate on program content, not upon developing on-air personalities. When personality begins to creep into a presenter’s on-air presentation, Zane will caution the presenter to return to basics. If he or she doesn’t change course, he will pull them from the program.

“We want programming that stands on its own because it is creative and engaging. It’s about the community, not about the presenters or programmers,” he said.

We want presenters who aren’t even known in the community because they are on the radio. We want them to be known because they bring information to people in a language they understand and in the context of the community’s daily life. We don’t need egos and personalities to make this happen.

Zane says women better understand what radio can accomplish. They are in touch with the community in an intimate way and can define community needs from personal experience.

“Men come along and elbow women out of the way,” he said.

In a mockingly deep, resonant voice, he says they want to become a DJ or a presenter–a personality.

“You have to protect young men from that,” he said.

There are advantages to this kind of programming that sometimes go unrecognized. It can change fast and it’s flexible. For example, when an outbreak of cholera happens, he says, Bush Radio can identify it and provide information about treatment and prevention long before the government health agencies can adjust.

As we arrived at Khayelitsha Township, we got out of the car and went into the teeming slum neighborhood where volunteers assembled to help township women lay plastic sheeting over the leaky roofs of their shanty homes to prevent leaks during the coming rainy season. More about that in the next post.

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