Citizen Broadcasting: DIY National Television
The interesting aspect to this story is that the architects of Soweto TV are not trained in broadcasting per se, but understand the gap that exists in current television coverage, and who their audience is.
A stream of callers queues up to have their say on air and argue with studio guests on whether unmarried couples should live together. Many more viewers contribute by SMS during the course of the hour-long show.
Other parts of the evening schedule include a lifestyle show, a Soweto Today current-affairs programme and a slot devoted to the arts in a township seen as the cutting edge of music, dance and drama in the new South Africa.
Documentaries on issues such as HIV/Aids and religion add weight to a station that is already attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers a night.
"Everything we do here is about Soweto and issues that affect people living in the township," said the station's chief executive, Tshepo Thafeng.
The offices are inside a disused school on Vilakazi Street, which not only was once home to Mandela but is still the part-time home to his fellow Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Broadcasting in 11 of the rainbow nation's different languages, the channel currently airs for five hours a night to a potential audience of about two million who live both in Soweto and in outlying suburbs of nearby Johannesburg.
The station first came on air with temporary month-long broadcast licences in 2005 and 2006. Since June it has been broadcasting full-time on a local licence, but it will be available nationwide from Monday on the satellite network DStv.
Funded by a combination of advertising and private donations, the station is staffed by 40 young unpaid volunteers from Soweto, many of whom have never had any formal training in broadcasting.
"The whole idea is to give training and open opportunities to youngsters in Soweto," said the station's chairperson, Force Khashane. "In that way we are empowering local people who in turn can assume ownership of the project."
"The channel is about Soweto, for Soweto, by Sowetans. We are glad it is happening for the first time here," he said of the first community television station to go nationwide.
"The township is multicultural, multiracial, with so many different things going on. There are lots of stories about Soweto that are never told," said Thafeng.
"[These are] ordinary things done by ordinary citizens organised from their backyard shacks that mainstream TV doesn't cover. Those are the core values of what makes the township so vibrant that we are covering.
The community channel first aired for a month in March 2005, and again in November / December 2006 for eight hours a day, under a temporary special events license from Icasa.
Tshepo Thafeng, CEO of the channel, said, “Soweto TV is aimed at fulfilling the objective of educating, entertaining and, over and above, empowering the local community. That is why we have to come up with programming that will accommodate the community of Soweto.
“It will be the voice for the voiceless. We’ll be showcasing new talent from time to time as in the previous broadcasts.”