Pan-Africanist Radio Show Cancelled.
The most depressing feature of the recent overhaul of Kaya FM was neither the mean-spirited drop of its Afropolitans brand nor its turn towards fully charged commercialization of the channel to reach a wider target audience. Both have seen Kaya FM turn itself into an ‘adult Yfm with no meaningful semi-political conscious content and bending backward to compete with Metro FM for the lucrative and growing relatively young middle-class market.
Rather what was most disturbing was relegating the channel’s unmistakable African identity to the backroom and emptying any intellectual discourse to the margins. A number of people, however few, have expressed serious concern about the failure of the station to provide nourishing food for the soul of its target in a much vaunted African Century as espoused by the former President Thabo Mbeki.
For them, the alarm bells started ringing loud with the sudden discontinuation of the Kenny ‘DJ Kenzhero’ Nzama et al produced niche program, What is wrong with grooving by Kaya FM in March this year. That development marked the predictable and monotonous censorship of consciousness-raising Pan-Africanist voices in South African broadcasting and media, in general.
In fact, its growing listenership was rudely reminded of this phenomenon during Human Rights Month last March when, as usual, on tuning to the station between 2 – 4 pm on a Sunday, they discovered that the show was canceled without any announcement or notification.
Apparently, the matter is in the hands of lawyers, now. Significantly, the title of the show was taken from the album, The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela which was recorded and released in Los Angeles in 1966. Importantly, the dazzling melody was composed by the late renowned trumpeter, Masekela, and popularized by Letta Mbulu.
It marked an innovative way of telling African stories to satisfy the yearning for self-determination to reclaim the continent's place in the world. Over the last 27 years of democracy and freedom, there has been a clandestine conservative assault on African voices, commentary, music and broadcasting that promotes self-consciousness among African people, especially between 25 and 50 years of age.
Instead, the trend is to promote celebrity-type of broadcasters with an inclination towards superficial social gossip and using infectious dance music and self-indulgent far-into-the-night drinking sessions as the new opium of the people. However, the suppression, censoring and marginalization of self-assertive Pan Africanist or and Black Consciousness voice is not new in the South African media scene and history.
DJ Kenzhero and his production team delivered a witty, enlightening, and consciousness-raising program on Kaya FM for 60 weeks. If correct, it soon became the fastest-growing weekend program with an increasing listenership with its mind-blowing fusion of African history, philosophy, psychology, literature, politics, and heritage.
It was very easy to hear the voices of influential and leading African thinkers from around the world. These including historical legends and icons from Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, WEB Du Bois, to Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela who were largely not part of your everyday radio or broadcasting experience. Of course, the articulation of their ideas, principles, and insights of a new Africa was blended with music and historical, cultural, and political nuggets.
Yet Kaya FM felt it necessary to cancel the show despite a contract that had not come to an end.
To followers of What’s wrong with grooving, this was a slap in the face as they had always assumed that Kaya FM was a radio channel that was aligned to the hopes and aspirations of a growing African audience. Perhaps one should explain that the show signified something new – a bid for a well-packaged and presented new-age Black Consciousness program to nourish the soul. In fact, this effort was increasingly successful as it generated a new audience that would, normally, not pay too much attention to content with an Africanist cultural and political inclination.
But this seemed to fire the imagination of urban African's between the ages of 25 – 50 who are hungry for self-knowledge and understanding from an African perspective. Few would doubt that the popularity of the show was a response to the SOS of a young African audience who, as they grow, realized that they are ignorant and disconnected from their history and heritage.
However, the cancelation would go unnoticed because of the roll-over-and-die attitude in today’s society. Generally, people are only interested in protecting and preserving their interests. In fact, they are afraid to question authority. To raise a voice over such a development is to attract unnecessary trouble that will see one identified as a trouble maker.
In this context of Media Freedom celebration, we can only hope that Africans will learn that freedom of expression in the media belongs to those who own it. For some reason, most mainstream media platforms distance themselves from so-called radical African voices that will open the minds of the people about the real challenges that they face in this beautiful country that no man can enjoy.
There is only one thing that DJ Kenzero and the team can do while lawyers are still deliberating on their issue: explore possibilities to found their own platform.
Sandile Memela is a writer, cultural critic, and public servant.