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Television in South Africa

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Television in South Africa

Television in South Africa was introduced in 1976. Despite being the most economically advanced country in Africa, South Africa was relatively late in introducing television broadcasting to its population.


Opposition to introduction

Even though the state-controlled South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) had a virtual monopoly on radio broadcasting, it also saw the new medium as a threat to Afrikaans and the Afrikaner volk, giving undue prominence to English, and creating unfair competition for the Afrikaans press.[1]

Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd compared television with atomic bombs and poison gas, claiming that "they are modern things, but that does not mean they are desirable. The government has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical." [2]

Dr. Albert Hertzog, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs at the time, said that TV would come to South Africa "over [his] dead body,"[3] denouncing it as "a miniature bioscope [cinema] over which parents would have no control."[4] He also argued that "South Africa would have to import films showing race mixing; and advertising would make [non-white] Africans dissatisfied with their lot."[5] The new medium was then regarded as the "devil's own box, for disseminating communism and immorality".[6]

However, many white South Africans, including some Afrikaners, did not share Hertzog's "reactionary" views and regarded the hostility towards what he called "the little black box" as irrational. When Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon in 1969, South Africa was one of the few countries unable to watch the event live, prompting one newspaper to remark, "The moon film has proved to be the last straw… The situation is becoming a source of embarrassment for the country."[7] In response to public demand, the government arranged limited viewings of the landing, in which people were able to watch recorded footage for 15 minutes.[8]

The opposition United Party pointed out that even less economically advanced countries in Africa had already introduced television,[1] while neighbouring Rhodesia had introduced it by 1957, the first English-speaking country in Africa to do so.

In the absence of television in South Africa, a radio version of the British television series The Avengers was produced by Sonovision for SABC's commercial network, Springbok Radio, in 1972. While it only ran for eighteen months, the radio series proved highly popular.[9]

Slow introduction

In 1971, the SABC was finally allowed to introduce a television service. Initially, the proposal was for two television channels, one in English and Afrikaans, aimed at white audiences, and another, known as TV Bantu, aimed at black viewers,[10] but when television was finally introduced, there was only one channel. Experimental broadcasts in the main cities began on 5 May 1975, before nationwide service commenced on 5 January 1976.

In common with most of Western Europe, South Africa used the PAL system for colour television, being only the second terrestrial television service in Africa to launch with a colour-only service. (Zanzibar in Tanzania was the first territory in Africa to do so in 1973.) The Government, advised by SABC technicians, took the view that colour television would have to be available so as to avoid a costly migration from black-and-white broadcasting technology.

Initially, the TV service was funded entirely through a licence fee as in the UK, but advertising began in 1978.

In 1981, a second channel was introduced, broadcasting in African languages such as Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Tswana. The main channel, then called TV1, was divided evenly between English and Afrikaans. Subtitling on TV was almost non-existent, the assumption being that people had no desire to watch programmes in languages they did not speak.

In 1986, the SABC's monopoly was challenged by the launch of a subscription-based service known as M-Net, backed by a consortium of newspaper publishers. However, as part of its licensing restrictions, it could not broadcast news programmes, which were still the preserve of the SABC, although M-Net started broadcasting a current affairs programme Carte Blanche in 1988. As the state-controlled broadcaster, the SABC was accused of bias towards the apartheid regime, giving only limited coverage to opposition politicians.[11]


Imported programming

Owing to South Africa's apartheid policies, the British Actors' Equity Association started a boycott of programme sales to South Africa. This, combined with a similar boycott by Australia, meant that South African TV was dominated by programming from the United States, and it was only after the end of apartheid that the boycott was lifted and non-US programming became much more widely available.

Many imported programmes were dubbed into Afrikaans, the first being the British series The Sweeney, known in Afrikaans as Blitspatrollie. However, in order to accommodate English speakers, the SABC began to simulcast the original soundtrack of American series such as Miami Vice and Beverly Hills, 90210 on an FM radio service called Radio 2000. They especially do not get the popular American television series, Las Vegas. This also applied to German and Dutch programmes dubbed in Afrikaans, such as the German detective series Derrick, and the Dutch soap opera Medisch Centrum West, also known as Hospitaal Wes Amsterdam.

Local programming

There are currently many South African-produced programmes which are shown across Africa and around the world. For example, SABC 3's scifi/drama series Charlie Jade, a co-production between the Imaginarium and Canada's CHUM, has been broadcast in over 20 countries, including Japan, France, South Korea, and in the United States on the Sci-Fi Channel. M-Net's soap opera Egoli: Place of Gold, has been shown in 43 African countries, and has even been exported to Venezuela, where it has been dubbed in Spanish.[12] The drama series Shaka Zulu, based on the true story of the Zulu warrior King Shaka, was shown around the world in the 1980s, but this was only possible because the SABC had licensed the series to a US distributor. The Zulu-language comedy 'Sgudi 'Snaysi achieved SABC's highest viewing figures in the late 1980s, and was shown in Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

Political change

Following the easing of media censorship under State President F. W. de Klerk, the SABC's news coverage moved towards being more objective, although many feared that once the African National Congress (ANC) came to power, the SABC would revert to type and serve the government of the day. However, the SABC now also carried CNN International's TV news bulletins, thereby giving South African viewers new sources of international news.

On 4 February 1996, two years after the ANC came to power, the SABC reorganised its three TV channels, so as to be more representative of different language groups.[13] This resulted in the downgrading of Afrikaans' status by reducing its airtime from 50% to 15%, a move that alienated many Afrikaans speakers.[14]

New services

The launch of PanAmSat's PAS-4 satellite saw the introduction of Ku band direct-broadcast satellite broadcasting services on 2 October 1995, soon after MultiChoice launched DStv. Two years later the SABC launched its ill-fated satellite channels, AstraPlus and AstraSport which were intended to catapult the corporation into the Pay TV market called AstraSat but a lack of financial backers and initial insistence on using analogue technology as opposed to digital technology resulted in failure.[15]

The SABC's monopoly on free-to-air terrestrial television was broken with the introduction of privately owned channel in 1998. also provided the first local television news service outside of the SABC stable, although M-Net's parent company, MultiChoice, offers services such as CNN International, BBC World News and Sky News via direct-broadcast satellite as part of its paid offering.

The first 24-hour local business channel, CNBC Africa was launched in 2007 with eight hours of local programming and the remainder pulled from other CNBC affiliates. CNBC Africa competes with Summit, a business television station owned by media group Avusa, which broadcasts only during evening prime time. Both stations are available only on the MultiChoice direct-to-home platform, although the inclusion of CNBC Africa in the offering of new satellite players seems a near certainty.

In November 2007 regulators announced the award of four new broadcast licences after a process that saw 18 applications. The successful applicants were Walking on Water, a dedicated Christian service, On Digital Media, a broad-spectrum entertainment offering, e.sat, a satellite service from, and Telkom Media, a company 66% owned by telecommunications operator Telkom Group Ltd. The MultiChoice licence was renewed at the same time.

e.sat decided not to launch services but rather adopt a content provider business model. e.sat launced, a 24-hour news channel, in 2008 on the MultiChoice platform. Telkom Media decided in early 2009 not to pursue the launch of television services as its parent company Telkom did not believe adequate investment returns could be achieved. The remaining licencees were expected to be operational by late 2009 and all will operate direct-to-home services using standard small-aperture satellite dishes. Telkom Media was also granted an IPTV licence.

Another model of public service television, called community television, was introduced to South Africa by legislation known as the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act of 1993.[16] The act enabled three tiers of broadcasting, these being public, commercial, and community. While many community radio stations sprang up from that time, community television was enabled only for temporary event licences of up to four weeks in duration. It was only after the national broadcasting regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), promulgated its position paper on community television in 2004, that longer term licences of up to one year were enabled.[17]

The first community television station to get a one-year licence was Soweto TV in 2007. The station serves the southern Johannesburg region and principally Soweto, it is also available by satellite on the MultiChoice platform. The second community television licence was Cape Town TV, first licenced in 2008. The station serves the greater Cape Town metro from a single transmitter on the Tygerberg site and reaches a monthly audience of about 1.3 million viewers. Another community broadcaster found on the Top TV or renamed Star Sat platform as well as the OpenView HD platform is Deen TV.

Community television stations must, by law, a) serve a particular community; b) be run by a non-profit organisation; and c) involve members of the community in the selection and production of programming.[18] Presently, in 2010, longer term "class" licences of up to seven years in duration have been enabled by the legislation, but issues of frequency availability are complicated by the migration to digital broadcasting. This led ICASA declaring a moratorium on considering new community TV licence applications in March 2010.[19] To date, only Soweto TV has a class licence, while Cape Town TV has applied for one.

On Digital Media announced on 18 March 2010 that it would be launching TopTV in May 2010 as a second pay satellite TV competitor. TopTV would offer a total of 55 channels with 25 channels in its basic offering.[20]

Digital technology

The first digital television implementation in South Africa was a satellite-based system launched by pay-TV operator MultiChoice in 1995. On 22 February 2007, the South African government announced that the country's public TV operators would be broadcasting in digital by 1 November 2008, followed by a three-year dual-illumination period which would end on 1 November 2011.

On 11 August 2008, the Department of Communications announced its Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy.[21] The policy will govern the switchover from analogue to digital transmission, and states that the Department will provide funding to the national signal distributor Sentech to begin the migration process according to the published timetable. The timetable is phased as follows[22] which is a delay of 4 years from the original one proposed:

  • 8 August 2008 - MultiChoice launches South Africa's first HDTV channel (DStv channel 170)
  • 2013 - begin digital transmissions (DTV)
  • 2015 - ~100% digital coverage and switch-off of all remaining analogue transmitters

The government's stated goal to have digital television as well as mobile television up and running in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament to be hosted by South Africa, failed.

Satellite television

South African-based MultiChoice's DStv is the main digital satellite television provider in Sub-Saharan Africa, broadcasting principally in English, but also in Portuguese, German and Afrikaans.

In May 2010, On Digital Media launched the TopTV satellite television service.[23] It offers a number of South African and international television channels and broadcasts principally in English, but also in Hindi, Portuguese and Afrikaans.

Dubai-based Strong Technologies l.l.c. offers My TV which offers programming to Sub-Saharan Africa, although it is not targeted specifically to the South African market.

Other Technologies

Satellite television has been far more successful in Africa than cable, because maintaining a cable network is expensive due to the need to cover larger and more sparsely populated areas and the high incidence of cable theft. There are some terrestrial pay-TV and MMDS services.

Most-viewed channels

Source: South African Audience Research Foundation (June 2013)[24]

Position Channel Group Monthly reach (%)
1 SABC 1 South African Broadcasting Corporation 85%
2 SABC 2 South African Broadcasting Corporation 84%
3 Hosken Consolidated Investments 81%
4 SABC 3 South African Broadcasting Corporation 76%
5 Soweto TV community television 20%
6 M-Net Action M-Net 19%
7 Studio Universal Universal Networks International 18%
8 Mzansi Magic DStv 17%
9 Channel O M-Net 16%
10 Mzanzi Wethu DStv 15%

See also


  1. ^ a b Cros, Bernard. "Why South Africa's Television is only Twenty Years Old: Debating Civilisation, 1958-1969". Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "South Africa: The Other Vast Wasteland".  
  3. ^ West, Richard (1978). The white tribes revisited. London: Private Eye Productions in association with Deutsch.  
  4. ^ "Keynote address by the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mandisi Mpahlwa, at the launch of the revised film and television production incentive".  
  5. ^  
  6. ^ "From devil's box to diversity: 30 years of SABC television".  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Nixon, Rob (July 1999). "Apollo 11, Apartheid, and TV".  
  9. ^ Avengers on the Radio
  10. ^ "South Africa: Apartheid Television". TIME. 10 May 1971. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  11. ^ "A cracked mirror for a fractured land".  
  12. ^ "Satisfying local demand". Africa Film & TV 2000. Archived from the original on 11 February 2008. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Leaper, Norm (June–July 1996). "Ahh … the Pitfalls of International Communication". Communication World (San Francisco, CA: International Association of Business Communicators) 13 (No. 6): 58–60.  
  14. ^ Louw, Eric; Mersham, Gary (2001). "Packing for Perth: The Growth of a Southern African Diaspora". Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 10 (No. 2): 303–33. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  15. ^ Kobokoane, Thabo (3 August 1997). "Astrasat may be heading for the dump".  
  16. ^ "Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, No. 153 of 1993". Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  17. ^ "Community Television Broadcasting Services". Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. 30 November 2004. Retrieved 15 March 2013. 
  18. ^ "Electronic Communications Act, No. 36 of 2005". Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). Issued by  
  19. ^ Government Gazette Vol. 537, No. 33605, March 2010
  20. ^ Gedye, Lloyd (18 March 2010). "Top TV to hit screens in May".  
  21. ^ "Electronic Communications Act: Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy". Government Communication and Information System (GCIS). Issued by Government Gazette, Vol. 519, No. 31408. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  22. ^ Mammburu, Livhuwani (14 January 2011). "Government confirms new digital TV standard".  
  23. ^ "Top TV launches Saturday".  
  24. ^ "Cume Channel Reach". South African Audience Research Foundation. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 

External links

  • South African Broadcasting Corporation
  • "Why South Africa's Television is only Twenty Years Old: Debating Civilisation, 1958-1969" by Bernard Cros
  • TVSA - The South African TV Authority
  • First official TV broadcast in South Africa in 1976
  • Sentech's VIVID Free to Air satellite TV in South Africa. Archived from the original on 6 August 2011.
  • Cape Town TV
  • Strong Technologies l.l.c.
  • My TV Africa
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