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South African Public Radio Institutes Controversial Local Music Quota

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Following an “extensive and successful” campaign for better representation by the SABC, South Africa’s public broadcasting company, local music professionals are rejoicing over the SABC’s move to dedicate 90 percent of its airtime to locally produced music. Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the SABC’s Chief Operations Officer, stated, “This cross-pollination of music is very important for the public service broadcaster, because part of our mandate is to reflect the South African story, and music is an important part in ensuring that the SABC fulfills this mandate.” The new music quota, enacted in May 2016, focuses on a range of genres including kwaito (South Africa’s own brand of house music), jazz, reggae and gospel and will feature both established artists and rising musicians.

The South African musical community has voiced its support for the new quota. Speaking to the struggle of surviving as a South African musician, hip-hop artist Slikour addresses the positive implications of the quota: “I never even thought that they’d make this change. In the music industry, it’s like Mandela coming out of jail, to keep it real.” In an interview with the BBC, rapper Kwesta suggests that “the royalty checks are probably going to go up a little bit, which means people can take care of themselves and feed their families.”

The shift towards local music has not been met without controversy. The influx of posts on social media platforms since the change demonstrates a duality of opinions among the SABC’s listenership:

Billy De Lange of South African radio station Radio Active Rock has also penned an article denouncing the new music quota, arguing that the policy will lead to the airplay of lower quality music in order to meet the mandatory 90 percent. He writes:

Instead of promoting the advancement of the quality of local music, encouraging local musicians to get their music quality on par with that of their international counterparts, the SABC is basically saying that they will play music by absolutely anyone without any merits. I can now go and record a horrible song and send it in to the SABC, and I will be just short of guaranteed airplay, because the SABC is desperate enough for the content.

Listeners who want relief from the inundation of local music on the SABC’s 18 stations will have to turn to privately owned radio stations to hear non-South African tunes on a consistent basis. Only a month in, the world has yet to see the lasting repercussions of the music quota, which will surely have an effect on the SABC’s listenership and on the whole of the South African musical community.

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