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Pretoria - Karabo FM community radio station in Sasolburg was razed after two arsonists pounced on it on Saturday night.
The attackers demanded that everybody inside go out before they doused the building with about 25 litres of petrol and set it alight, the station’s board chairman, Sam Mkhwanazi, said.
The building and all equipment were completely destroyed, but nobody was hurt.
Mkhwanazi said nobody knew why this had happened, but police were investigating.
Wits Radio Academy director Professor Franz Kruger said it was important to see this attack against a political background.
“I would be surprised if there wasn’t a political motive as Sasolburg is a politically fraught environment.
“Karabo has been in the middle of the local conflict around incorporation of Parys and Sasolburg… it’s an appalling attack on media freedom,” said Kruger.
Community radio stations were important and were supposed to be protected, he said.
“I’m glad nobody was hurt, but we just can’t have that kind of thing going on in a democratic South Africa.”
Comment could not be obtained from the SAPS Sasolburg station as its phone went unanswered, but Mkhwanazi said no arrests had been made.
The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said the burning of the station was an attack on the democratic principles of South Africa.
“This tragic incident is yet another reminder that, almost 20 years into democracy, the right to freedom of expression and specifically media freedom still needs to be protected and advanced.
“Such attacks should be treated not just as an attack on media freedom, but an attack on the foundations of South Africa’s constitutional democracy,” the FXI said.
Karabo FM was “in the middle of the local conflict” around plans to merge Parys and Sasolburg, it added.
“With several outbreaks of violence over the past months, Karabo FM has remained a medium that sought to maintain some independence.”
The Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) condemned the arson attack, saying Karabo FM broadcast to an estimated 73 000 listeners as per the August RAMS survey, and they had been deprived of information and entertainment.
“We hope the SAPS will move speedily to investigate the cause of the fire and to encourage the community of Sasolburg and surrounding areas to work with the SAPS and provide information that may lead to the arrest of the perpetrators,” said MDDA executive officer Lumko Mtimde.