The closure of SW Radio Africa this month was sad but also revealing. It was sad in the sense that this was the closure of one media outlet that gave alternative views, but revealing in the sense that the station could not sustain itself after 13 years of funding from donors.
SW Radio said it went on air on 19 December 2001 and off air on 10 August 2014. It hailed itself as “the independent voice of Zimbabwe”- something that raises questions about the word “independent”.
My online dictionary describes independent as:
- fair because of not being influenced by anyone else
- ruled by its own government, rather than controlled by another country
- not belonging to any political party
- not employed or controlled by a company
- not depending on other people for help, or preferring to do things by yourself
- not depending on other people for money
- not connected with or joined to anything else
I do not know which of these definitions applied to SW Radio, but it appears most did not.
A picture on the SW Radio website accompanying the announcement of the closure shows that it had a staff of at least eight people. The question that quickly comes to mind is how could eight people, eight brains, allow their organisation to close down after 13 years of donor funding?
Did they ever think beyond donor funding especially when they were complaining that they wanted a licence to operate in Zimbabwe and were only in London because of the harsh media laws in Zimbabwe?
Where they going to continue to be funded by donors even if they returned to Zimbabwe? Or was this a given that they would only operate as long as there was donor funding?
Interestingly, founder Gerry Jackson said SW Radio received its seed funding from the United States State Department. It must have done a shoddy job because two years later the United States launched Studio 7, which broadcast in Zimbabwe’s three main languages and was a surrogate for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. Studio 7 is still on air though it has proved to be a very costly experiment.
Sad is also the fact that the station collapsed after 13 years of funding. This clearly shows that donor funding will never sustain any project. It creates a dependence syndrome out which people can never extricate themselves.
Jackson claimed that the massive disarray in the Movement for Democratic Change also led to the collapse of the station because it added on to the donor fatigue. So was SW Radio a political project?
Judging by the fact that there were more than 20 applications for new radio stations in Zimbabwe filed with the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, SW Radio was probably not a people’s project otherwise someone would have bailed it out. Or was it just a bad business project?