Dear SA, Save us – we need SABC channels

Dear South Africans,

What is this we hear about some of you wondering why we, your neighbours up north, are angry that the SABC has switched us off?

We hear you mock and despise the SABC channels, and that it's fashionable in your country to go about claiming you don't watch your national broadcaster.

And so you are scratching your heads in wonder at news that loads of people in Zimbabwe are suicidal after Sentech, the company that was so graciously carrying SABC signals for the benefit of millions across Southern Africa, has been told to stop.

Now, even we agree that the SABC is not the best viewing on the planet. But you think you have it bad? You don't. Sit down, and let me explain.

You remember last Saturday night, during prime time TV, while you were watching Top Gear on SABC3?

Do you know what we were watching on Zimbabwe Television (ZTV)? Let me answer that by asking a question: Do you know there are so many different breeds of sheep in Zimbabwe, the more popular ones being the Dorper, Sabi and Merino breeds?

Crossbreeding goat and sheep
And do you know that the goat and sheep population in Zimbabwe was estimated at some three million, which, according to the presenter, is only a fraction of the "small ruminant livestock" population they have in Botswana?

And it's not recommended to try to crossbreed a goat and a sheep, in case you were wondering. It won't work, apparently. Riveting stuff.

We know all this very useful information thanks to our sole broadcaster. You see, we have one television channel. Yes, one: a monopoly that safely belongs to the government.

You people haven't a clue. You think SABC's talk shows are poor? Well, you don't have to watch ZTV's African Pride or Zvavanhu (Matters of the People) or National Ethos.

Let me try and to you understand. You see, these are three different shows, shown on different days, but with the same panel of elderly professors. Yes, the same.

These profs never ever disagree. OK, maybe they do, but disagreement goes like this: the moderator, Dr Chivaura — they always refer to each other by their titles — asked on a recent episode how it was possible that a person in their right mind would vote for sellouts.

Sellouts "made people hungry"
Dr Mupepereki, who, by the way, also runs his own TV show on farming on the same channel, replied that people voted that way because the sellouts made them hungry.

Dr Mahoso, whose day job is to head the country's media commission, dis-agreed. It was just plain old treachery, he opined.

Don't judge our love for SABC until you have watched the Iranian documentaries on Wednesday night, or if you haven't got to episode 19 of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, the North Korean series about a girl who dresses as a boy to go to a boys-only school.

Or that other Korean show that is actually called Sad Love Story.

Do you now see why Generations, Muvhango and Zone 14 are probably more popular here than they are in South Africa?

And don't even get us started on the news bulletins. It is an angry hour, in which one subject can be "castigated" and "slammed" by a procession of analysts and "people from all walks of life", with little or no reference to why that person is being "castigated" in the first place.

Election season
However flawed it is, SABC news would have been an alternative news source this election season. But now we have to brace for what's coming to us. By the end of campaigning season, I can assure you, we will know Zanu-PF's manifesto by heart.

And election season always brings the best out of ZTV. This is when we get to see all those Zanu-PF campaign "jingles" — music videos of mostly large women in Zanu-PF regalia shaking their rumps to fast-paced sungura tunes and praising the Dear Leader.

At first you hate the songs, but the battering is so relentless, so unending that, before you know it, you are tapping your feet and humming the tunes in the shower.

Do you now see why more than three million of us preferred to own the decoders that enabled us to watch SABC's channels?

So, please, understand when your neighbours mourn over the loss of SABC. Yes, we know SABC can be a bore.

What, Generations's Dineo is having man trouble? Again? Yawn.

You could flip to ZBC, but African Pride is on, and Dr Mahoso is, yet again, indulging in his weird obsession with Henry Kissinger.

So let us mourn over the loss of your boring SABC. Yes, we know, gazing at those colourful outfits on Muvhango can be tedious, but we'll take it.

Anything to keep us away from bitter old professors, Korean romance capers, and the gyrations of the Mbare Chimurenga Choir.

Your neighbour,
Jason Moyo

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Jason Moyo
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