By Judith Sibanda
Victoria Falls, March 08, 2016 – MATABELELAND North’s first commercial radio station is yet to start broadcasting almost a year after it was licensed, with its owners blaming the poor economic situation in Zimbabwe for the delays.
Breeze FM, owned by Fairtalk Communications, was licensed in 2014 to start broadcasting from Victoria Falls for a radius of 50 kilometres.
However, despite promises that broadcasts would start as soon as possible, there is no tangible evidence that the station would hit the airwaves any time soon.
The delays are frustrating Victoria Falls residents who have to rely on radio stations from neighbouring Zambia for entertainment and current affairs.
Stations such as RadioVOP and Voice of America’s Studio 7 fill the void but residents say a local station is necessary so that they can articulate their development aspirations.
Fairtalk Communications chief executive officer Qhubani Moyo said financial challenges were delaying the launch of what would be the province’s first radio station.
“We are still preparing to launch (the station) but the process is not as short as people might think,” Moyo told RadioVOP.
“When we start, we will be there forever. It is a difficult environment and there is a liquidity crunch that is affecting every company in the country.”
He said the company had not violated any conditions of the license concerning the launch of the station.
“We are also confined to the government policy which says all radios to be licensed must go for a period of 18 months and we are only at month 11,” Moyo said.
Fairtalk Communications’ Skyz FM, which was also granted the Bulawayo license in 2014, is also yet to start broadcasting.
Only two of the seven radio stations licensed by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) are on air and these are Zimpapers’ Diamond FM in Mutare and YA FM in Zvishavane.
Meanwhile, Victoria Falls and Hwange residents said they were not happy that 36 years after independence they still cannot access local radio and television stations.
Lawrence Moyo from Hwange said lack of radio and television access was one of the reasons Matabeleland North was marginalised when it came to development.
“This province is sidelined in terms of development,” Moyo complained.
“The government stations don’t reach us. Even those that have a little bit better signals like National FM that meant to promote indigenous languages is not very efficient.
“Many people here in Hwange and Victoria Falls speak Nambya, Chidombe and Nyanja among other minority languages but no one uses them in that station.
“For us, the presenters will be talking to themselves and we urge government to do something so that even when we pay for radio licenses we don’t feel cheated.”
Thokozile Sibindi from Victoria Falls said residents felt neglected by the government because they had no access to current affairs.
“If disaster can occur here, it will be difficult even for those of us who are in urban areas to know what is happening,” she said.
Moyo said the residents were justified to feel hard done by the poor service offered by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and BAZ, which is responsible for the setting up of transmitters.
“There is a need to set up transmitters in the (Matabeleland North) province,” he said. “BAZ needs to extend its reach to cover all areas including rural homes so that everyone is involved in the country’s current affairs.”
Some residents said they were pinning their hopes on the current digitisation exercise that would see broadcasting systems being switched to digital from analogue.