Zane Ibrahim of Bush Radio in Belfast

Paul Smyth from Public Achievement introduced me to Bush Radio. This South African radio station operates in Cape Town and is known as “The Mother of Community Radio in Africa”.

The founder Zane Ibrahim was in Belfast today to discuss what community radio means to him and how he has developed Bush Radio. It’s mission statement says “Bush Radio’s mission is to ensure that communities who have been denied access to resources, take part in producing ethical, creative and responsible radio that encourages them to communicate with each other, to take part in decisions that affect their lives, and to celebrate their own cultures. Through such radio, communities will affirm their own dignity and identity, and promote social responsibility and critical thinking.”

It’s unlike any community radio station I’ve encountered before; the emphasis is “community” not “radio” and while it is known worldwide, it is completely rooted in its own community (within a population of 2.5 million people). “Everyone is a trainee” even if they have been working alongside Zane for 15 years. Everyone multi-tasks and the youngest volunteer is 6 years old.

Zane had been on the run as a refugee in Canada during the Apartheid years in South Africa. He returned from exile in Canada in March 1996 to assist in the reconstruction and development of the country after Apartheid. And he chose radio as the forum to build that reconstruction. It was only an hour of conversation but it was a fascinating insight into how a radio station can mobilise a community for good and how it has been imitated in many other countries.

This is not the sort of radio station that you work for your own ego – you can’t work there unless you are undertaking an educational course at the same time. I’ll be looking more deeply into the work of Bush Radio over the next few months and hoping to learn how some of their experiences can be applied to Northern Ireland.

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