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South African Broadcasting Corporation

SABC redirects here, as this is the most common use of the abbreviation in English. For other uses, see SABC (disambiguation)

South African Broadcasting Corporation
Type Terrestrial television and radio broadcast network
Country South Africa
Availability South Africa
Founded 1936
by the Government of South Africa
Slogan "This is your SABC."
"Vuka Sizwe!" (Nation Arise!)
Broadcast area
South Africa
Owner Government of South Africa
Key people
Ben Ngubane[1]
Solly Mokoetle[1]
Launch date
1936 (radio)
1976 (television)
Official website
South African Broadcasting Corporation headquarters in the Johannesburg suburb Uitsaaisentrum, often mistakenly referred to as being located in Auckland Park, which is a suburb bordering on Uitsaaisentrum.

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) is the state broadcaster in South Africa, and provides 19 radio stations (AM/FM) as well as 4 television broadcasts to the general public.[2] Accusations of it being a government and ruling party mouthpiece have often been made against the broadcaster, particularly in the lead-up to the 2014 South African Elections,[3][4][5] particularly after it refused to air the campaign adverts of various opposition parties,[6][7] and again in 2015 when it censored the video feeds of the 2015 State of the Nation address that portrayed the ANC and President Jacob Zuma in a negative light.[8] In 2015, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi reinforced the notion that the SABC was a state-owned company, and therefore, subject to control by the Ministry and the ruling party.[9]

Company history

Early years

Radio broadcasting began in South Africa in 1923. The SABC was established in 1936 through an Act of Parliament, and replaced the previous state-controlled African Broadcasting Corporation, formed in 1927, which was dissolved in the same year. It was a state monopoly for many years, and was controlled by the government. During National Party rule from 1948 onwards, it came under increasing criticism and accusations of being biased towards the then ruling party. At one time most of its senior management were members of the Broederbond, the Afrikaner secret society and later drawn from institutions like Stellenbosch University. It was also known officially in Afrikaans as Suid-Afrikaanse Uitsaaikorporasie (SAUK), but this term is now only used by the SABC when referring to the Corporation in the spoken word on SABC2's Afrikaans TV news and on the Afrikaans radio station RSG. Although, the Afrikaans newscasts on SABC2 uses SABC Nuus instead of SAUK Nuus. The term is also still widely used by Afrikaans print media.

The SABC was a Radio service, as television was only introduced into South Africa in the 1970s. There were three main SABC radio stations: The English Service, the Afrikaans Service and the commercial station, Springbok Radio. Programs on the English and Afrikaans services mainly consisted of the news, radio plays, such as "The Forsyte Saga", "Story of an African Farm", "The Summons" written and produced in South Africa, serious talk shows, BBC radio shows, children's programming, such as Sound Box, light music broadcasts featuring South African talent, such as orchestras, arrangers, musicians and singers. The most renowned orchestral arrangers were Art Heatlie, Gerry Bosman, Dan Hill and Rollo Scott, head of the SABC music department. Accomplished musicians such as Kenny Higgins and pianist and composer, Charles Segal were featured on all three stations on a regular basis in shows like "Piano Playtime" and accordionist Nico Carstens was a regular on the Afrikaans programs. Springbok Radio was a bilingual commercial station, featuring a wide variety of programming, such as morning talk and news, game shows, soap operas, children's programming, music request programs, top-ten music, talent shows and other musical entertainment and comedy shows such as the very popular Saturday noontime show, "Telefun Time", where comedians like Steve Segal would phone various people and conjur up situation comedy. Telefun Time was similar to the USA shows, Candid Camera and, much later, Punk'd.

Until 1979, the SABC also operated broadcasting services in Namibia, which was then under South African rule, but in that year, these were transferred to the South West African Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC). This, in turn, became the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) after the country's independence in 1990.

Recent history

In 1996, the SABC and its services were restructured to better serve and reflect the fresh democratic society of post-1994 South Africa – notably by reducing Afrikaans airtime on television. These actions, combined with the disposal of many of the 'historic' remnants of Afrikaans-dominated broadcasting (such as the Liewe Heksie puppets) have been labelled 'revenge' by some commentators. The SABC has since been accused of favouring the ruling ANC political party, mostly in the area of news broadcasting. However, it remains the dominant player in the country's broadcast media.

Criticism towards the public broadcaster intensified around 2003–2005, when it was accused of a wide range of shortcomings including self-censorship, lack of objectivity and selective news coverage.

Kaizer Kganyago, the spokesperson for the SABC, is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the African Press Organization.



The SABC was established by an Act of Parliament in 1936 taking over from the African Broadcasting Company which had been responsible for some of the first radio broadcasts in South Africa in the 1920s. The SABC established services in what were then the country's official languages, English and Afrikaans, with broadcasts in languages such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho and Tswana following later. The SABC's first commercial service, started in 1950, was known as Springbok Radio, broadcasting in English and Afrikaans. Regional FM music stations were started in the 1960s. In the 1960s, when British rule ended in South Africa, the Afrikaners' goal was to promote their culture and so, at first, the SABC's choice of popular music reflected the National Party government's initial conservatism, especially on the Afrikaans channel, with musicians such as Nico Carstens. Eventually, musicians broke through the barrier, when the young, English-speaking Jewish musician and composer, Charles Segal collaborated with the older Afrikaans lyric-writer, Anton Dewaal, to write Afrikaans "liedjies" (songs) that became highly popular with the Afrikaans speaking public. Once his talents gained the respect of the Afrikaans powers in the SABC, Segal was able to establish a foothold for himself and other English-speaking South African musicians to be featured on SABC programs. However, there was tight censorship in all SABC broadcasts and, for example, some of the music of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones was generally frowned upon, if not banned from the airwaves, in favour of 'more wholesome' music.

In 1966 the SABC established an external service, known as Radio RSA, which broadcast in English, Swahili, French, Portuguese, Dutch and German. In 1969 the SABC held a national contest to find theme music for Radio RSA. This contest was won by the popular South African pianist and composer, Charles Segal and co-writer, Dorothy Arenson. Their composition, "Carousel" remained the theme song for Radio RSA right through to the 1990s. Radio RSA is now known as Channel Africa.

1996 restructuring

In 1996 the SABC carried out a significant restructuring of their services. The main English-language radio service became SAfm. The new service, after some initial faltering, soon developed a respectable listenership and was regarded as a flagship for the new democracy. However, government interference in the state broadcaster in 2003 saw further changes to SAfm which reversed the growth and put it in rapid decline once more.[citation needed] Today it attracts only 0.6% of the total population to its broadcasts. The main Afrikaans radio service was renamed Radio Sonder Grense (literally 'Radio Without Borders') in 1995 and has enjoyed greater success with the transition.

Similarly, SABC Radio's competitors have achieved great levels of popular appeal. Primedia-owned Radio 702, Cape Talk and 94.7 Highveld Stereo have grown steadily in audience and revenue through shrewd management since the freeing of the airwaves in South Africa. Other stations such as the black-owned and focused YFM and Kaya FM have also shone, attracting audiences drawn from the black majority.

Station list

Station Language Website Webcast
SAfm English [1]
5FM English [2]
Good Hope FM English, Afrikaans [3]
Metro FM English [4]
RSG Afrikaans [5]
Radio 2000 English [6]
Ukhozi FM Zulu [7]
Umhlobo Wenene FM Xhosa [8]
Thobela FM Pedi [9]
Lesedi FM Sotho [10]
Motsweding FM Tswana [11]
Phalaphala FM Venda [12]
Munghana Lonene FM Tsonga [13]
Ligwalagwala FM Swazi [14]
iKwekwezi FM Ndebele [15]
Lotus FM English (for
the Indian
community) [16]
X-K FM  !Xu, Khwe [17]
tru fm
(formerly CKI FM)
English, Xhosa [18]


Early history (1975–1995)

SABC logo, used from 1976 to 1996.

In 1975, after years of controversy over the introduction of television, the SABC was finally allowed to introduce a colour TV service, which began experimental broadcasts in the main cities on 5 May 1975, before the service went nationwide on 6 January 1976. Initially, the TV service was funded entirely through a licence fee, as in the UK, but advertising began in 1978. The SABC (both Television and Radio) is still partly funded by the licence fee (currently R250 per annum).

The service initially broadcast only in English and Afrikaans, with an emphasis on religious programming on Sundays.

A local soap opera, The Villagers, set on a gold mine, was well received while other local productions like The Dingleys were panned as amateurish. Owing to South Africa's apartheid policies, the British actors' union Equity started a boycott of programme sales to South Africa, meaning that the majority of acquired programming in the early years of the corporation came from the United States. However, the Thames Television police drama series The Sweeney was briefly shown on SABC TV, dubbed in Afrikaans as Blitspatrollie. Later on, when other programmes were dubbed, the original soundtrack was simulcast on FM radio.

The SABC TV also produced lavish musical shows featuring the most popular South African composers, solo musicians, bands and orchestras. For example, well-known South African pianist and composer, Charles Segal, was given a half hour special show: The Music of Charles Segal, where a selection of Segal's music was performed by various South African artists, such as Zane Adams, SABC Orchestra, Charles Segal and others.

With a limited budget, early programming aimed at children tended to be quite innovative, and programmes such as the Afrikaans-language puppetshows Haas Das se Nuus Kas and Oscar in Asblikfontein are still fondly remembered by many.

In 1 January 1982, two channels were introduced, TV2 broadcasting in Zulu and Xhosa and TV3 broadcasting in Sotho and Tswana. Later was launched TV4, broadcasting for black urban audience. The main channel, then called TV1, was divided evenly between English and Afrikaans, as before. Subtitling on TV in South Africa used to be almost non-existent, although now many non-English language soap operas have started to display English subtitles. The second channel, known either as TV2, TV3 or TV4 depending on the time of day, was in 1994 rebranded as CCV (Contemporary Community Values). A third channel was introduced known as TSS, or Topsport Surplus. Topsport being the brand name for the SABC's sport coverage, but this was renamed NNTV (National Network TV).

SABC television become widely available in neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. The SABC also helped the South West African Broadcasting Corporation in Namibia to establish a television service in 1981 with most programming being videotapes flown in from South Africa. This became part of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation in 1990.

Competition and restructuring

In 1986, the SABC's monopoly on TV was challenged by the launch of a subscription-based service known as M-Net, which was backed by a consortium of newspaper publishers. This service was disallowed from broadcasting its own news and current affairs programmes, which are still the preserve of the SABC. The SABC's dominance was further eroded by the launch of the first 'free-to-air' private TV channel, Satellite television expanded when M-Net's sister company, Multichoice, launched its digital satellite TV service (DStv) in 1995. SABC TV channels are broadcast via this satellite television, as well.

In 1996, the SABC reorganised its three TV channels with the aim of making them more representative of the various language groups. These new channels were called SABC 1, SABC 2 and SABC 3. The SABC also absorbed the Bop TV station, of the former Bophuthatswana bantustan.


In 1999, the SABC began to broadcast two TV channels to the rest of African continent: SABC Africa, a news service, and Africa 2 Africa, entertainment programming from South Africa and other African countries. In 2003, Africa 2 Africa was merged with SABC Africa. SABC Africa's news bulletins are also carried on the Original Black Entertainment (OBE) satellite television channel in the UK.

The SABC has announced launch of two regional South African television channels, SABC4 and SABC5, which will emphasise languages other than English. SABC4 will broadcast in Tswana, Sesotho, Pedi, Tsonga, Venda, and Afrikaans as well as English, to the northern provinces of the country. In the southern provinces, SABC5 will broadcast in Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, and Swazi, as well as Afrikaans and English. Unlike other SABC TV services, SABC4 and SABC5 will not be available via satellite.

According to the SABC, the factors which are considered when deciding how much time a language gets on television are the following: how many home language speakers exist in the coverage area of a channel; the geographical spread of the language; the extent to which members of a language community are able to understand other languages; the extent of marginalisation of a language; the extent to which the language is understood by other South Africans; and whether there is available content that uses the language.[10]

SABC TV has an audience of over 30 million.[11] SABC1 reaches 89% of the public, SABC2 reaches 91% of the public, and SABC3 reaches 77% of the public, according to the broadcaster.[10] The SABC has 18 radio stations, which have more than 25 million weekly listeners.[11]

Station list

1975 to 1996

  • TV1 * English and Afrikaans
  • TV2 * Zulu and Xhosa
  • TV3 * Sotho and Tswana
  • TV4 *
  • TV2 TV3 and TV4, replaced by CCTV in 1994 [19]

1996 onward

  • SABC 1 Nguni Languages Primarily and English Secondarily
  • SABC 2 English, SeSotho Venda and Afrikaans
  • SABC 3 English, Afrikaans
  • SABC oncore


Pro-ANC bias

Opposition politicians of the ANC often level criticism at the SABC of it being an ANC mouthpiece, a charge that the broadcaster also faced under the previous Nationalist government. Despite a change in government, this public perception was reinforced when, in August 2005, the SABC came under heavy fire from independent media and the public for failing to broadcast footage wherein Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was booed offstage by members of the ANC Youth League, who were showing support for the newly axed ex-Deputy President, Jacob Zuma.[12]

Rival broadcaster eTV publicly accused SABC of 'biased reporting' for failing to show the video footage of the humiliated Deputy President. Snuki Zikalala, Head of News and ex-ANC spokesperson retorted that their cameraman had not been present at the meeting. This claim was later established to be false when eTV footage was released which showed an SABC cameraman filming the incident.[13]

The SABC's government connections also came under scrutiny when, in April 2005, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was interviewed live by Zikalala, who is a former ANC political commissar.[14] The interview was deemed by the public to have sidestepped 'critical issues', and to have avoided difficult questions regarding Mugabe's radical land-reform policies and human rights violations.

In May 2006, the SABC was accused of self-censorship when it decided not to air a documentary on South African President Thabo Mbeki, and in early June 2006, the news organisation requested that the producers (from Daylight Films) not speak about it. This was widely criticised by independent media groups.[15] In response, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange issued an alert concerning the SABC's apparent trend toward self-censorship.[16]

In June 2006, the International Federation of Journalists denounced the cancelling of the Thabo Mbeki documentary, citing "self-censorship" and "politically-influenced managers".[17]

Also in June 2006, SAfm host John Perlman disclosed on air that the SABC had created a blacklist of commentators.[18] A commission of inquiry was created by SABC CEO Dali Mpofu to investigate the allegations that individuals had been blacklisted at the behest of Zikalala.[19][20] Perlman eventually resigned from SAfm, and the broadcaster came under heavy criticism from free media advocates.

Shortly before the ANC's 2012 elective conference in Mangaung, the board of the SABC handed control of news, television, radio and sport to COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The board's decision was interpreted by some at the SABC as a calculated attempt to ensure that an ANC faction close to President Jacob Zuma was given positive coverage.[21] During a press conference held by the SABC on 6 December 2012, to explain why it had prevented three journalists from participating in a discussion on how the media would cover the ANC's elective conference in Manguang, Hlaudi Motsoeneng said that whenever the ANC is discussed on the SABC an ANC party representative must be present.

In April 2014, journalists were warned by SABC chairperson, Ellen Zandile Tshabalala, that their phones were being wiretapped by the NIA, and reminded them to be loyal to the ANC ruling party. When challenged on the matter, Tshabalala insisted that her comments had been taken out of context. The scandal erupted at the same time that the DA official opposition accused the SABC of censorship[22] when they stopped airing a television advert that referred to the ongoing Nkandlagate scandal.

In February 2015, the SABC was accused of censoring video and audio feeds of the State of the Nation address in Parliament, after opposition party EFF was forcefully ejected by armed plain-clothes policemen after interrupting the President's speech. Footage of opposition party DA walking out in protest over the presence of the armed personnel was also censored. This was in addition to the presence of a signal-jamming device that prevented journalists and MP's from being able to use their mobile devices to post news online.[23]

Cultural bias

Critics, including the Mail and Guardian (Vol 24, No 35), have accused the broadcaster of failing to recognise and cater to the diverse cultural mix of South Africa, and of excessively favouring certain ethnic groups in their entertainment offerings, particularly through their TV channels.

See also


  1. ^ a b "SABC Corporate – Board of Directors". South African Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 16 February 2010. [dead link]
  2. ^ "SABC Station List". 
  3. ^ "Cosatu: SABC becoming govt mouthpiece". Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  4. ^ Ed, Herbst. "ANC tightens its grip on the SABC". Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  5. ^ "SABC phone tapping revelations". MyBroadband. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  6. ^ "DA cries 'political censorship' as SABC refuses to air second advert". Times Live. 
  7. ^ "SABC bans EFF advert". Sowetan Live. 
  8. ^ "SABC censored SONA broadcast". mybroadband. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  9. ^ "The SABC is a state owned company: Communications Minister". Times LIVE. Sapa. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "About the SABC > Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2014-10-27. 
  11. ^ a b  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Mail and Guardian article on Youth League Controversy". 
  13. ^ "Sunday Independent on Deputy-President footage". 
  14. ^ "Sunday Times on Robert Mugabe Interview". 
  15. ^ "IOL News Report". 
  16. ^ "IFEX Self-Censorship Warning". 
  17. ^ "IFOJ comment on Mbeki documentary". 
  18. ^ "John Perlman disclosed blacklist". 
  19. ^ "IOL on blacklisting allegations". 
  20. ^ "MG on blacklisting allegations". 
  21. ^ "SABC chief takes control". 
  22. ^ "SABC censoring our adverts: DA". TimesLive. Retrieved 13 April 2014. 
  23. ^ "SONA: What the ANC did not let the nation see". The Media Online. The Media Online. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 

External links