KWALUSENI (19 April 2021): Residents of Matsapha are waking up to unusual radio music these days. It is coming from a new broadcaster, UNESWA FM 88.2. The university broadcasting station came On-Air with little fanfare for the first in the first week of April 2021 and is operated by students.
For now, the radio station entertains residents within 20km radius of the university with music.
The broadcast, a major success for media development, comes two years since the university became the first applicant to be issued with a licence by the broadcasting regulator, the Eswatini Communications Commission in July 2019. It is the first little light for the media community which has struggled for liberalization of the broadcasting environment for the past 50 years.
At the moment only government owns and operates a radio station in the country. However a Christian gospel station which migrated to Swaziland from East Africa in the 1970s broadcasts from Manzini. It only propagates the gospel and has no editorial input whatsoever.
The first radio broadcasting was heard in 1963, during major political strikes in Mbabane. It broadcast from a shed in the St. Marks area to provide updates for a very nervous British expatriate community. Pro-independence political leaders who could be described today as progressive, whipped up public emotions with economic demands for all workers to be paid a minimum wage of $1 (one pound sterling, which was the currency of the day) per day. Though it closed after the strikes, it re-emerged, now more formally organized as the Swaziland Broadcasting Service (SBS), precursor of today’s SBIS.
Soon after independence, a commercial broadcaster, the Swazi Music Radio (SMR) was established in Johannesburg but broadcast from Swaziland between 1972 and 1978. It was soon taken over by the South African entrepreneur brothers Issie and Natie Kirsh who were hoping to compete against the then highly popular LM Radio (Radio Lorenzo Marques). LM radio broadcast from pre-independence Mozambique. The SMR studios were based in central Johannesburg and the transmitters were at Sandlane inside Swaziland. Programmes were recorded in Johannesburg and the tapes taken by road to the transmitting station for broadcast the next day.
Since then however, government has enjoyed full monopoly of radio with Swaziland Broadcasting and Information Services as the only broadcaster providing programmes, information and editorial content.
Whether one swallow is finally a harbinger of Spring remains to be seen. Several entrepreneurs, among them, Lubombo Community who have struggled for more than 20 years to secure a broadcasting licence are still waiting.