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close this bookThe Courier N 158 - July - August 1996 - Dossier: Communication and the Media - Country Report: Cape Verde (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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Catholic radio in Southern Africa

by Antonio Pacheco

In this abridged article, the author, who is a Portuguese journalist, gives details of two church-supported local radio projects in Southern Africa.

At the end of the 1980s, the Social Communication Department of IMBISA, the conference of Catholic bishops in Southern Africa (a kind of SADC for Roman Catholics) embarked on a local radio project. It had a two-pronged approach. First, it involved setting up a network of small community radio stations. The local population were involved, sharing responsibility for making programmes and broadcasting information and news about everyday life in the remotest places. In some cases, the programme content was retransmitted at a provincial or even national level. The second aspect was that it was supplemented by the creation of flexible and independent associations of journalists/presenters. They formed information agencies operating as a network to link up local radio stations.

At that time, the main concern in Southern Africa was to rid South Africa of apartheid. There was also a desire to promote freedom of expression in Angola and Mozambique. Given that radio was (and still is) the most important means of communication in the region, the idea was to set up a regional network capable of overcoming all the constraints ranging from legal bans and restrictions on broadcasting to widespread illiteracy. The ultimate objective was to set up a Catholic radio station based in Swaziland. This project did not go ahead, however, because it was too expensive to finance and, above all, because it was dependent on the regional Catholic hierarchy. It proved difficult to reconcile the various ideological views and sensitivities of bishops in the various countries of the region. There was also a growing feeling amongst the Christian communities that the underlying need was not for a radio station which would be a vehicle for bishops' views, but rather a media system that served the people, offering recreation, training and information.

Radio Pax

Another local radio project of interest, which is now up and running, involved reviving Radio Pax, the private Catholic radio station which made a significant contribution during the 1 960s to the struggle for a free Mozambique. The operation closed down in 1977 but the experience was not forgotten and 16 years later, the decision was made to bring the station back on air. Those behind the new project took advantage of the trend towards greater political openness in the country. Their aim was to offer a credible and informative alternative, which, they hoped, would be up and running in time for the elections scheduled for October 1994. A course was run between July and September 1994 which brought together young presenters chosen by small communities on the outskirts of Beira, Chimoio, Nampula, Quelimane and Maputo. The course involved honing the participants' presentation skills and providing practical training in technical subjects, and programme and information preparation. This was how the first association of young independent Christian journalists came into being.

For various reasons, including red-tape and customs regulations, the new Radio Pax was unable to broadcast in the run-up to the general election. However, the young journalists, who received their training at various locations, were able to act as important independent sources of information. This was channelled to Maputo and used as backup for a number of international press officials and observers. The information relayed by the young presenters in the provinces made it possible to publish a newsletter which was circulated throughout the country, using fax, religious channels and a variety of other means.

Radio Pax is now in operation, although it faces major technical problems. It is based in a community centre in Inhamizua, 20 km from Beira. The station has already done important work in gathering information about local traditions, and has broadcast programmes aimed particularly at women and young people in suburban areas. The network also incorporates Mozambique's Radio Encontro, which broadcasts from Nampula in conjunction with the Anchilo training centre. There are plans for further local radio stations in Maputo in the south, Quelimane and Chimolo in the centre and Pemba in the north.

Radio Pax is managed entirely by the Association of Independent Young Christian Journalists in Beira. In terms of training, the current preoccupation is to teach the young people involved how to manage the small radio stations which have been made available to them, and to set up local self financing systems. Although equipment is important, what really counts in this project is the training of the presenters. Working in close collaboration with the community, it is they who are in the front line-promoting the inalienable right of free expression.