Community radio station bosses and the licensing regulator will meet in a last-ditch bid to save 29 stations which face closure.
It follows a week of contradictory reports from the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) and the National Community Radio Forum regarding plans to close stations operating without the required licences.
Now, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe and Minister for Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams have entered the fray, calling for a meeting to find a solution and finalise a support strategy for sustaining community media.
The parties are set to meet on November 7, a day before a planned march by the forum against the closures scheduled to take place in Joburg.
The forum said they received a list of 43 stations identified for closure.
But Icasa denied the claims, saying it had no plans to shut down any stations.
Icasa spokesperson Paseka Maleka said the 29 stations were afforded the opportunity to get their affairs in order but failed to do so.
They were duty-bound to shut them down as it would be unlawful to allow them to operate.
“Icasa appreciates and supports the critical role that the community radio sector plays in promoting social cohesion, fostering diversity and uplifting or empowering our communities.
“But Icasa will neither promote nor allow illegal broadcasting and illegal use of the radio frequency spectrum.
“The closing down of any community radio station or any other licensee is taken as an absolutely last resort, after repeated instances of non-compliance and repeated attempts on the side of the authority to get the licensees to remedy same,” said Icasa chief executive Willington Ngwepe.
But the forum’s Thabang Pusoyabone accused Icasa of not having the capacity to properly regulate the community broadcasting sector.
“For example, the Gamkaland licence was renewed only because they managed to provide documentary evidence to show Icasa that the application was delivered,” he said.
Pusoyabone said Radio Zibonele FM in the Western Cape submitted its renewal application on time, and no response was received from Icasa.
When the station followed up, Icasa said the station should prove that the package was sent.
The station sent another renewal application and this time retained the evidence.
“These examples raise serious questions about the administrative capacity of Icasa to regulate 200 community sound broadcasters in the public interest,” Pusobayone said.
Radio Zibonele station manager Mawande Jara, whose station’s licence lapsed last year said they had to resubmit their application after Icasa couldn’t find their initial one.
“Icasa’s admin process is completely pathetic and there is no specialised unit for community radio; I think they are more commercial-orientated.”
Jara stressed the need for structured support from the government, saying challenges facing community-based media were not prioritised.