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Radio Zibonele went off-air on Wednesday following an instruction from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) since the station has been broadcasting without a licence since October 2018. The 28-year old Khayelitsha-based community radio station failed to submit an application for renewal of its licence before its expiry.

In a press briefing held at the station on Friday last week, the station manager, programmes manager and a board member blamed the issue on Icasa’s incompetence and its agenda against them or whoever ‘high up’ is interfering to make sure that they are closed down.

The authority released a strongly worded media statement responding to the allegations as “unfortunate misinformation and misrepresentation of facts that have been spread on various media platforms about the reasons for the imminent closure of Zibonele Community Radio”.

At the press briefing, the station said that they followed the rules and that the problem was with Icasa. However, Independent Online reports that in a letter from the minister of communications, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, the station admitted that they had failed to comply with Icasa licensing rules since 2018.

Making an announcement about the closure, Radio Zibonele board chairperson, Mthetheleli Vellem, continued to defend their mishandling of the licence and denied responsibility for the closure of the station. He spoke about the way forward in amicable cooperation with Icasa and said that they respect the decision to go off-air today. “We bring you bad news today as the board solely because we want to ensure that we work together with Icasa in resolving this issue. We don’t want to be seen as being unruly, we would like to announce that we will be off-air up until we meet with Icasa,” he said.

Vellem did not acknowledge that the station failed to submit the application on time. He said the station manager was disciplined when they first knew that their licence was not renewed: “We made the station manager sign a warning and we created a team to make sure that we get a licence.” Apologising to the listeners, advertisers and to the staff, Vellem said that he expects Zibonele to be back on-air soon. “If we are on-air because of compliance then we will be back soon, unless the discussion would be about something else,” he said.

Broadcast on DSTV and online

Vellem told the listeners that they will continue to broadcast on DSTV and online as these platforms do not require a licence from Icasa. The station will have to reduce its staff, though, especially support staff and some presenters.

Mobilising the community to prevent Icasa from accessing the transmitter

After the station went off-air at 12h00, a community meeting was organised to prevent Icasa from taking away the transmitter. Ndithini Tyhido, chairperson of Khayelitsha Development Forum, said that they respect Icasa but that it must ensure that the station continues to broadcast. “We have asked the station management and the board to write to Icasa to tell them that the community does not want them to take away the transmitter,” said Tyhido.

Meeting with Icasa

According to Vellem, the station will be meeting with the CEO and acting chair of Icasa, and the chairman of the communications portfolio committee, on the 28th of July.

“If there is a meeting that is set for 28 July with Icasa leadership, then why are they shutting down the station? We feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. Yes, the station management might have messed up but Icasa is not only punishing them but the entire community,” Tyhido protested.

Asked about Icasa’s assertion that the station failed to submit the renewal licence on time, Tyhido said he does not want to comment until a way is found to salvage the situation. “We will hold a stakeholders meeting soon to determine what went wrong,” he said.