‘Sikhuluma Isikhethu’ : Ndebele Radio, Ethnicity and Cultural Identity in South Africa, 1983-1994

  • Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi University of the Witwatersrand


The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) established nine African language radio stations ostensibly to cater for the diverse linguistic and cultural needs of the African communities in the country. In reality, however, these stations acted as a government mouthpiece and means through which a monopoly over the airwaves was asserted. Through these stations the government promoted ethnic compartmentalisation and popularised the ethnic ‘homelands’ created from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. One of these stations was Radio Ndebele, established in 1983, with a clear mandate to reinforce Ndebele ethnic nationalism. This article seeks to explore the history of this radio station, using both oral sources and documentary material, though privileging the former. The article makes a two-pronged argument: Firstly, Radio Ndebele came into existence not only because of the government’s mission but because of pressure from Ndebele-speaking people who needed radio programming in their own language. Secondly, this radio station helped turn a spoken language that was on the throes of extinction into a vibrant written language that found its way into the schooling system, particularly in areas with a large concentration of Ndebele-speaking people.

Author Biography

Sekibakiba Peter Lekgoathi, University of the Witwatersrand
Department of History